The Red Chord hadn't become a complacent band so much as reliable. After their groundbreaking debut Fused Together In Revolving Doors, each release has been nearly on par with the 2002 album with enough ideas to keep from sounding like retreads but not enough flourish to really top themselves. Their 2009 effort Fed Through the Teeth Machine, however, has changed all that. The deathcore pioneers sound as fresh and vital as they have since they first came onto the scene, which is somewhat ironic, considering that this is their first long player as a quartet.
Fed Through the Teeth Machine's deceptively slow beginning on the opening track Demoralizer quickly explodes with Brad Fickeisen's outstanding, pummeling drums and Guy Kozowyk's dominating growl. It best sums up the whole album's vibe - in two and a half minutes, The Red Chord thrash away through multiple clever time changes and breaks, while maintaining an unflinchingly brutal attack. Many deathcore contemporaries, in particular their labelmates Job for a Cowboy (who are also currently opening for GWAR along with the band), seem to resort to time signature changes more as a novelty than to progress a song. Here, the fat is all trimmed, and everything still sounds as intricate as anything else in the band's discography but with an enthusiastic and nimble quality.
The musicianship is phenomenal right through, but on Hour of Rats and Mouthful of Precious Stones Brad Fickeisen and guitarist Mike McKenzie especially shine. The tight songwriting on the former is exhibited with great skill, the changeovers sounding extremely slick. On Stones, Fickeisen sounds more frantic than Cannibal Corpse's Paul Mazurkiewicz with a precision worthy of The Dillinger Escape Plan. McKenzie's solos on the song are remarkably soulful, and the way he switches gears from that back to the heavy, chugging riffs, and then the quick shredding that emerges seemingly at random is stunning.
Sleepless Nights in the Compound has perhaps the best groove of all, and closes things out with an almost melancholic yet still heavy sound. It recalls the excellent It Came from Over There off of their previous album, Prey for Eyes, in its near psychedelic character heard throughout. In fact, this quality is cleverly sprinkled all across Teeth Machine, for example in the guitar bending near Floating Through the Vein's conclusion or the brief break in Ingest the Ash.
What makes The Red Chord's latest so great is that they managed to up their game in every single department. Teeth Machine is intensely heavy, but it doesn't come at any cost; there's no sacrifice with the songwriting, the playing proficiency, or even the character of the band's music, which is ultimately what makes them unique. Every song is as thought provoking as it is mosh worthy, and not even just in the complex music. It's a shame you can only understand maybe every fourth or fifth word that Kozowyk says, he's surprisingly eloquent. With Fed Through the Teeth Machine, The Red Chord have truly fulfilled their potential and produced that rare beast, a death metal album that has real personality.