Having already earned some name recognition on the field with a couple of demos, split releases and DIY-style European tours, Death Toll 80k are more than ready to present themselves in a full-length form. In six and a half years, these Karelians have impressively fine-tuned their sound from the primitively pummeling "Celtic Frosted grindcore" of their beginnings to the tightly performed yet traditional and straightforward grinding of today.
Unlike a lot of the grind bands out there today that seem to value intensity and extremity over catchiness, Harsh Realities is packed with solid, catchy riffs and groovy sections that pump you up like the beginning of “Suffer the Children” does every time. There’s plenty of that good ol’ blast as well, but the mid- and down-tempo parts nicely contrast the speedier sections, and give the whole a dynamic feel. The album doesn’t attempt to be the craziest speedfest on the market, but instead presents a truly authentic take on grindcore, tapping straight into the source and drawing influences not only from the obvious classics of the genre, but also from thrash, for instance.
The sound supports the output well, avoiding the trap of being modernly lifeless or over-polished, yet maintaining a sense of clarity and balance, and giving those punishing guitar riffs the room they need. The bass could’ve been given a bit more audibility, though, as now it’s buried quite deep in the mix. The instrumental performance doesn’t pale in comparison either, and especially the drumming displays tightness and skill, without falling into technical pretentiousness or unnecessary wankery at any point.
The vocals are a clash of extremities, consisting of deep growls coupled with some high-end screams, the latter of which are executed with a particularly impressive fury. The lyrics are simple and to the point, digging into the wrongs of the world in a straightforward manner – an aspect which is also well reflected in the album cover and title. However, the vocal interpretation of the words is quite incomprehensible, not really encouraging one to follow the lyrics while listening – let alone sing along! In this way, the vocals act more as one of the instruments, and don’t provide any additional infectiousness through memorable arrangements or notable catch phrases.
Clocking in at less than half an hour, Harsh Realities is an adequate dose of mincing that maintains its charm even after several consecutive listens, leaving you hungry for yet another rush of that gripping intensity and rage. Despite its minor flaws, the album fully lives up to the high expectations that I had built up for it during the last couple of years, and stands as a strong and significant milestone of Finnish grindcore.