Album Title: The Propaganda Machine
Label: Black Lion Records
Date of Release: 31 March 2023
It’s the story of 2023 it seems – reviewing albums long after they have been released. It isn’t necessarily deliberate, but a by-product of the fact that I’m desperately trying to achieve a few things. Firstly, there was the burn-out that I experienced in 2022 caused by trying to review everything on offer. It wasn’t possible, as I realised. Then, there’s the desire to review albums that I really want to review, that deserve to be reviewed. Not just the bigger artists, but anyone that impresses me. I’ve always tried to do that since going solo with my blog initially and now my website. But there’s a greater emphasis on this, in 2023. And finally, if an album needs longer to digest before I review it, so be it. If it means the review is better, then a review post-release is a small price to pay, I think.
And this is one of those albums that I have been listening to for some time, immersing myself in it, and exploring all of its facets. In doing so, I feel that I now have a better understanding of it, and I like it more than I did when I first span it. A lot more.
The album is called ‘The Propaganda Machine’, and it’s the latest body of work from Sahil Makhija, A.K.A. The Demonstealer. Arguably best-known for his work with death metal band Demonic Resurrection, the Indian multi-instrumentalist has decided to put his own name on an album. ‘The Propaganda Machine’ is Makhija’s work first and foremost – it’s his music, his vision, and his personal commentary on the world as it stands currently.
On that note, the album is certainly a caustic, venomous, and cutting piece of work, with just about every song making a comment on humanity that does not make pleasant hearing. For example, ‘History will remember, and history will not forget. The screams of those dying, and the bodies lying dead’ (‘Screams Of Those Dying’). Or maybe the simple and effective ‘enough is enough, we won’t take any more’ (‘Crushing The Iron Fist’).
Moving on to the music, and it is every bit as powerful and brutal as the lyrical content. ‘The Propaganda Machine’ is eight weighty tracks of extreme metal that blends death metal, blackened death, black metal, and melodic death metal into a heady, intense listening experience.
As impressive as Makhija undeniably is as an instrumentalist, especially the guitar, he has decided to make ‘The Propaganda Machine’ a smorgasbord of talent. There are no less than twelve guests that feature on the album, with bassists, drummers, and lead guitarists littering the songs with their skills. The bassists that feature are Martino Garattoni (Ne Obliviscaris, Ancient Bards), Kilian Duarte (Abiotic, Scale The Summit), Dominic ‘Forest’ Lapointe (First Fragment, Augury, BARF), and Stian Gundersen (Blood Red Throne, You Suffer, Son of a Shotgun), whilst the lead guitarists consist of Alex Baillie (Cognizance), Dean Paul Arnold (Primalfrost), and Sanjay Kumar (Equipoise, Wormhole, Greylotus). Then there are the drummers. Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Triptykon, Blotted Science), James Payne (Kataklysm, Hiss From The Moat), Ken Bedene (Aborted), and Sebastian Lanser (Obsidious/Panzerballett) all take turns to batter the hell out of the skins, and they put in stunning performances on each and every track.
There’s one guest yet to me mentioned, and it’s an important one – the keyboardist. For all the blood-and-thunder extreme metal elements, the keys of Anabelle Iratni (Veile, ex Cradle of Filth) serve a very important purpose. They add atmosphere, texture, and depth, without ever overstepping the mark and watering down the intensity. At times, especially when Makhija unleashes his clean vocals, the combination with the synths creates a not dissimilar vibe to ‘Moontower’ by Dan Swanö. It’s certainly something that I hear vague hints off, anyway.
Things get off to a thunderous start by way of ‘The Fear Campaign’, a gauntlet-throwing composition that exceeds six minutes in length but doesn’t let up at any point. The riffs are sharp, and incisive, the drumming batters the ears, and the synths add a touch of symphonic texture, albeit not overly bombastic so as to dampen the force of Makhija’s angry growls or accompanying musical force of nature. Lead breaks from Arnold litter the song, but I particularly like the second half of the track as clean vocals emerge, adding more immediate melody to proceedings, just when I was least expecting it. Not that the brutality recedes in the process, though, to the credit of all involved.
To be honest, the broader recipe of ‘The Propaganda Machine’ has been laid out in the opener, but there are a few surprises to be heard within the remaining seven tracks. The out-and-out speed and precision within ‘Monolith Of Hate’ is stunning, as is the encroaching melody that keeps the hyperdrive playing interesting and engaging, rather than just a speed-fest for the purists. This is one of those songs that yields more with repeated spins, and which otherwise may have gone unremarked upon, which would have been a travesty.
Following on from the chunky and bulldozing nature of the title track, we’re hit with something markedly different and unexpected in the form of ‘The Art Of Disinformation’. The opening sequence is slower, more overtly melodic, and rather delicious to these ears. I love the guitar tone and the more reserved nature of the proceedings. It isn’t long before the intro is replaced by another blast of pace and ferocity, but this is the track, as evidenced by the hugely addictive chorus, that’s the most overtly melodeath in nature.
Mind you, the aforementioned ‘Screams Of Those Dying’ is no slouch in the memorability stakes either, especially with the incredibly potent and arresting lyrics, surrounded by groovy riffs, melodic hints, and some of the most precise and punishing instrumentation on the record. ‘The Great Dictator’ is another firm favourite around these parts too, thanks to what feels like a stronger symphonic footprint at the hands of Iratni’s keys, not to mention some of Makhija’s best clean singing and strongest melodies on the entire album. Did I mention the drums? No? Well, they’re insanely good, too, this time at the hands and feet of James Payne.
Having lived with this record for some time now, I can say with certainty that this a beast of an album. Whilst all the performances are noteworthy throughout, it is the riffing and the drumming that catch my ears the most and are the strongest elements of ‘The Propaganda Machine’. Coming a close second is the feeling that the album creates, which all musicians have a hand in. There is anger and frustration, but a thread of resilience too; a refusal to accept the state of the world and humanity. And this resilience manifests itself within a soundtrack that is pure power, pure brutality, and pure fury. Sound good? You bet it does. Makhija, Demonstealer, and accomplices, take a bow.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%