San Jose, California's Cretin came to be back in 1992, lasting about four years before disbanding. Bassist Matt Widener left to join the Marines, while guitarist Dan Martinez started a career in video game production (according to Metal-Archives). The group reformed in 2001, issuing their Extreme Cretanic Grindcore demo in 2003, which was followed up with the 2004 Cretanic Grind Ambush EP and the 4 Hits from Hell split in 2006. Later that year, we we're ginally given the disgusting full-length debut known simply as Freakery, which was handled by Relapse Records. Eight years and one sex change operation later (Dan Martinez is now known as Marissa Martinez for those unaware) and the four-piece finally return with their long overdue follow-up album Stranger. But is it as vile a creation as their previous outing, or have the years greatly toned this disgusting beast down?

First of all, let's address the way this one sounds. One of the biggest selling points of Freakery, and one of the main reasons why it worked out so well and became an instant hit for fans of this brand of Metal, was how dirty the album sounded, both thematically and musically. The production and mastering on that effort simply sounded vile, capturing the grotesque tones of early Carcass and Exhumed-era Goregrind perfectly. Stranger, however, does not do this. In fact, it's almost the polar opposite. Gone are the bile-soaked tunes with exploitive lyrics, replaced instead by a standard crisp digital production common to most bands today that dabble in the Death Metal meets Grindcore field to where it makes this new album sound like every other band that dabbles in the Death Metal meets Grindcore field.

The closest this band manages to get to as far as reclaiming their former glory can be found in a small handful of songs. "We Live in a Cave" has a tighter guitar presence that doesn't have a heavy reliance on blast beats, sometimes bringing in a bit of Punk influence that allows the twang of the bass guitar to stand out among the somewhat silly execution of the song's concept. All of this works together with a grittier vocal presence at times to add a hint of grime to the final product. There's also "Mary is Coming", which is a fast paced piece of technical grinding savagery. The song just has this natural sounding hatred that is sorely absent from so many other tracks on the release.

Other than those two tracks and a few other chunks here and there, Stranger sounds pretty generic in nearly every aspect. If this were the nineties, even early two thousands, it would have fit right in with the Goregrind explosion taking place on the very label this band calls home. "It" even makes this known after its explosive start that is more on par with "Coins Upon the Eyes" by Exhumed than any earlier material, which is something much of this track comes back to. The main verses, however, have some catchy grooves with a rich distortion and supporting bass presence. The drums really add to the overall intensity as well, helping create a little more depth to the riffs that just sound all too familiar within patterns we've all come to expect as standard for this genre in particular anymore.

While there aren't many that truly capture the sound from the band's prime in 2006, Stranger does still have its fair share of catchy cuts that stand tall next to much of the generally good performances. "Honey and Venom" throws a little more technicality around in the timing here and there, not to mention some furious riffs at a blistering pace that treads the line between just another blast beat segment and a barely restrained Death Metal feeding frenzy guaranteed to incite one of the most violent pits you could hope to come out alive of. "Ghost of Teeth and Hair" even throws a little melody into the chorus to try to do something a little extra outside a fantastic guitar solo. "Husband" includes some slightly eerie whistling to the chorus that ends up a nice little touch to such a brief Grindcore assault, unlike the pounding "Freakery" that, despite the title kind of being a throw back in itself, is really only saved by the amount of enthusiasm captured in the studio.

With the exception of a few songs that really try to sound vile and exploitive in some way, Stranger is nothing but well done Death Metal and Grindcore with pretty much no surprises. Consider it a love letter to the late-nineties, early two thousands Goregrind era in every way possible. So many songs are predictable, rely way too much on blast beats half the time, and while the band sound like they're on fire, much of the time the music itself just has no bite thanks to the overly digital production and how familiar everything ultimately sounds, leaving you rarely even bobbing your head along involuntarily. If there existed a paint-by-numbers book of examples for this style, which seems to be Exhumed's Slaughtercult in this case, Cretin decided to play it safe by making sure every "i" was dotted and each "t" crossed in it. While not bad overall, it certain is an underwhelming experience that really doesn't make up for the eight years of waiting.

Review originally composed for Apoch's Metal Review.