One of the common points about Sanzu in general is the reference to the band has been compared to a collaboration between Morbid Angel and Gojira, and to an extent, that’s fairly accurate. However, what the band presents on Painless [or at least what I pick up on] is actually more the former, while the latter throws some Genesis and Ruination-grade Job for a Cowboy into the mix with a subtle Strapping Young Lad undertone, especially in the non-guttural vocals. All of this is lumped together in a crisp, though still incredibly bulky sounding effort that seems to try to capture the top-notch studio sound of the nineties. The drums sound fantastic all around, the guitars have a strong distortion that treads the line between deep and heavy with the standard mid-ranged edge, a low pulsing from the bass that presents itself in a manner commonly associated with deathcore as of today, and a very well versed vocal range that doesn’t quite dominate the mix, even though it could.
While this all sounds well and good, Painless isn’t quite as easy to sit through as the title’s literal definition would make you believe. A good majority of this release winds up being slow and methodical, a normally solid idea given how fluid it both moves and sounds. The problem is that much of the performances on this effort seem to go on forever, and eventually never lead anywhere other than to what can be considered a random progressive change that doesn’t always deliver a meaningful impact of any sort. “18 Days of Rain” actually tricks you slightly, starting like something off a Cannibal Corpse album before switching over to Covenant-era Morbid Angel riffs of gloom and despair. The quicker tempo and fantastic drum presence really does fill the shorter track out nicely to keep the listener’s attention, throwing a good amount of energy forward that the guttural to rhaspy vocals feed off of.
From here, it’s hard to really understand exactly what Sanzu is going for. That slower Morbid Angel presence can still be found, though a lot of it really does just sound like the early days of Job for a Cowboy‘s death metal material to the point it kind of becomes more hero worship than anything largely original. “For All” pushes that first band forward in the start, but what follows is the latter in a decreasingly engaging push onward by just past two minutes, eventually leading to a crawl come the guitar solo about four minutes in that channels a bit of an Egyptian theme a la Sun Eater, leading to more stagnant bulky riffs that are mildly trance enducing thanks largely to the solid drum presence and the steady blistering bass kicks. Even though that does redeem things slightly, the entire last two-and-a-half minutes honestly doesn’t need to exist, coming off like pure padding for the sake of an extensive track length that, chances are, you’ll wind up tuning out of before that point even hits.
“Defamer” moves at a doom metal pace, plodding around as though moving ahead in a muck filled swampland in the pouring rain of a fall’s evening but, by two minutes, things do pick up slightly with a hint of hardcore attitude to the grooves incorporated. While the progression is highly commendable and shows promise of the song really hitting hard towards the end, by three-and-a-half minutes there’s a brief drop you expect to lead into a breakdown or slam, but instead just acts as an extended bridge to mediocre and bland modern Machine Head-esque groove metal riffs. This sudden dropping of the ball immediately pulls you out of the experience save for bobbing your head along to some of the later catchy grooves, but generally just waiting for the song to end in hopes “Variant Red” will deliver and make up for such a poor conclusion.
And, for a bit, it seems like it will. There’s a good dose of that aforementioned Strapping Young Lad brutality on display in “Variant Red” at first. In fact, some parts, such as approaching a minute in, sound as though they could easily fit on their City album, just sans the industrial elements. But, the rest of this just shy of eight minute long track just chugs along with random spurts of varied speeds in a progressive manner, not to mention a progressive guitar solo that sounds utterly ridiculous with it’s placement and the cleaner distortion utilized, that in no way live up to that start. Even cutting this one in half would have worked, as by two-and-a-half minutes in, Sanzu pulls out nearly every deathcore trope in the book uust to keep this one going, further proving the band’s pros lie in much shorter compositions, and not these unneccessarilly long cuts.
But, with all that said, it’s impossible to say that Painless is a bad effort in general. A lot of what the band does on here is actually pretty good, and had it not been as crisp as it is, chances are this wouldn’t end up such a boring over-sterilized effort. When the group clearly channels that early death metal era Job for a Cowboy sound, a lot of the enthusiasm necessary is wiped clean, much like what befell the album Genesis. It becomes too methodical, too precise, and ultimately too bland despite it’s often unpredictable nature, leading the listener deeper in the woods with no set destination whatsoever. Even if the energy captured on “18 Days of Rain” had been present on the other cuts and not this passive sound of a young band that comes off as either not wanting to be there or are already going through the motions of old band age, Painless would be an enjoyable slab of technicality and pacing. Hopefully their next outing finds a little more life breathed into it somewhere instead of feeling like it’s the end result of talented individuals pouting the whole time like a kid would when their mother makes them spend a Saturday cleaning their room instead of hanging out with friends.