The genre of technical death metal is tricky to do well. Oftentimes the songs are so densely arranged and executed that they are impenetrable and listeners may struggle for something—anything!—to latch onto. There are bands that do it well, and it’s probably time to start paying attention to Replacire, as they’re bringing some new perspectives and ideas to the genre. Their new album, Do Not Deviate, condenses some of the ideas from their debut, The Human Burden, into a heavily detailed monster. If listeners want a visual cue for what to expect, the bad ass cover art provides a perfect look. Robotic ferocity, Escher-esque labyrinths and the occasional mystical occult vibe–because, hey, why not? And, despite giving plenty for listeners to digest on early listens, this album practically screams that obsessive listens will reveal hidden layers and secrets.
The opener comes to life in a brief intro of stop/start guitar riffing that slap like orchestra hits. Though “Horsestance” clocks in at under three minutes, it does highlight several elements that make this band great. Intensely guttural, roaring growls, clean vocals that have a shamanic quality and a flurry of notes and time signatures that zoom by with a machine-like precision. There is a strange interlude that sounds like the soundtrack of a long-lost Bela Lugosi film played on 8-bit. Whether this is intentionally humorous is open to debate, but it is a funny moment and shows that the band is willing to take a genuine risk coloring outside the lines. “Act Re-enact” keeps the energy high with the aforementioned elements, but also with a harmonized tapping interlude and the first hints of groove that made Replacire’s debut, The Human Burden, a mind bender. Do Not Deviate reduces the use of cleans and relies slightly less on grooves, but these elements are used more effectively and are more contrasting, as if the band devised a scientific formula to determine exactly the number of notes and riffs per capita for efficient annihilation.
“Built Upon The Grave” marks a change up from the first two numbers, emphasizing the Tool-channeling nature of Evan Anderson Berry’s clean vocals, though they are backed with busier-though-still-bass-driven noodling patterns. These sections have a meditative, shaman-like quality that is truly a contrast to the heavier section, something that is all too rare in the tech death genre. “Any Promise” is another bruiser, with barely a respite in the outro for a dissonant, sinister Gorguts-invoking interlude to let the listener catch up. A piano interlude opens “Cold Repeater,” yet another hint that Replacire is taking it off the tech death map into parts unknown. After several minutes of pounding death metal there is another short atmospheric interlude; just long enough to have a listener say “and what’s…” before jerking them back into the maelstrom. The minute-long piano interlude “Reprise” finishes up the album’s first half.
“Moonbred Chains” is similar to some of the earlier tracks in that it is full throttle tech destruction. “Do Not Deviate” makes use of Berry’s cleans again, but without the contrasting, airy music and is, thus, lacking the introspective aspect. Some harmonized guitar leads and a crazy unaccompanied bass lick set up the end of the song, again using the cleans over a motorized riff that sounds like an idle ready to shift up. “Spider Song” is one of the more straight-ahead death metal numbers and is arguably the most accessible tune, and may have some appeal to those who don’t do tech death. Another deathly high priest moment of introspection occurs most of the way through the song, perfectly placed next to a blazing solo and followed by a herky-jerky riff and harsh vocal conclusion. “Travelling Through Abyss” provides listeners with another generally straight-ahead death metal number, though it is powerfully and ferociously played with a return to some of the dissonant buried-in-silt riffing from the first side.
The closer, “Enough For One,” is perfectly placed. This is the most forward-looking song on the record. It is, perhaps, a post-credits scene of what the band has in store for their next installment. The vocals are heavily effected and the difference is striking when compared with the rest of the record. There is a sudden change halfway through the song into a murky riff with the orchestra hit-style stop start riffing that opened the record buried in the muck. A quick change introduces a blazing solo before tearing back into a verse and finally wrapping up with some apocalyptic growls. “Enough For One” does more in just under three minutes than most bands do all day.
If there is a criticism of Do Not Deviate to be made, it is that by upping the brutality factor, the band has discarded some of the more melancholy sections of their debut, which hinted at Opeth at times. Do Not Deviate is a more creative record, but The Human Burden was somehow more, well, human, and left the listener with the impression that there might be some dark corners. That quality is not entirely absent, but it is the least noticeable or used aspect of the band’s sound here. Do Not Deviate is a fitting title; the machine is ordered to destroy, and destroy it shall. It will be interesting to see where Replacire take this sound in the future.
Do Not Deviate will be available on March 17th via Season of Mist, an can be purchased here.