Origin – Unparalleled Universe

The past decade and a half has spawned a death metal olympics of sorts, becoming a competitive sport as drummers fight for the speed throne and guitarists fight to keep up. Origin completely changed the game with 2002’s Informas Infinitas Inhumanitas, forcing bands and especially drummers around the world back to the rehearsal room to practice tedious rudimentary endurance exercises. Despite their technical prowess, the band injected crafty and effective songwriting which only improved over the span of the four albums leading up to now. Unparalleled Universe is an exploratory affair that sees the band continue to reach beyond their carefully carved niche just enough to keep things interesting.

Never ones for subtlety, Origin roars out of the gate with gravity-defying blast beats and sweeping arpeggios on opener ‘Infinitesimal to the Infinite’, keeping the tradition of the last five albums intact and wasting no time with intros most listeners will skip past anyhow. The mix is raw and clear, and thankfully not pushed as hard as past albums. The instruments have plenty of room to breathe and ooze the natural intensity the band brings to the table, while not sacrificing an ounce of heaviness. “Infinitesimal…” is standard Origin fare, the one we all signed up for, and it’s all here: gravity blasts, euro blasts, sweeps, frantic bass lines, and frenetically barked vocals; a promise ring to fans that the original no-holds-barred foundation is intact.

First single ‘Accident and Error’ is a ferocious exercise in uncompromising and innovative extreme drumming, seeing John Longstreth begin to stretch outside his usual Origin intensity boundaries and reach for a bit of the flavor he injects in some of his outside projects (Gorguts, Dim Mak, etc.) It’s about time everyone learns that John can funk with the best of ‘em while keeping it “brootal” the entire time. The groove at 0:41 is irresistible, only made better by the flutter of Gene Hoglan dual ride cymbal acrobatics to follow directly after.

It really is about Longstreth, isn’t it? The buzzsaw riffs, noodly bass lines, and arpeggio overdoses are not the feature here, and maybe never were. That being said, the absence of original vocalist James Lee is still a lamentable topic, even a couple albums down the road. Often times extreme metal vocalists take the easy road, bellowing long, lazy growls or screams or a few syllables as the rest of the band vehemently sweats and bleeds for their art. Lee was the precursor for syllabic death metal gymnasts like Archspire’s Oli Rae Aleron, and his presence here is missed, despite his more tamed performance on 2008’s Antithesis. Since 2011’s Entity, guitarist Paul Ryan, bassist Mike Florez, and current vocalist Jason Keyser have all done a fair job filling Lee’s vacancy but the acrobatics are gone. The vocals come off as merely an afterthought to the music; a necessary addition for the standard death metal template. .

The main improvement over the duration of Origin’s career is undoubtedly the songwriting, each album infused with more and more memorable bits to shake up the monotony of blitzkrieg blast/double bass assaults and tech-laden riffing. ‘Cascading Failures, Diminishing Returns’ (awesome title) houses a perfect example of the aforementioned skills, invoking a rare 6/8 time groove loaded with thirst-quenching fills and playful cymbal work. What may be considered risks for a band of Origin’s caliber sounds more like a band keeping themselves entertained. The unavoidable grins and mean mugging come not from the marathon endurance blasts, but from those charisma packed moments where the band lets go and reaches beyond the standard death metal hallmarks. The grindcore-infused ‘Truthslayer’ is a standout track, illustrating the band’s clear love for grind pioneers Terrorizer, a move similar to their blatant Napalm Death tribute in ‘Redistribution of Filth’ from previous album Omnipresent. Death metal needs more d-beats and sliding trem-picked barre chord riffs, and Origin has proven themselves capable of flawless delivery of these traits while maintaining intensity.

‘Invariance Under Transformation’ dials things down a couple notches, keeping a brooding pace throughout as Longstreth unloads on his kit. The guitars plod along with alarmingly simplistic riffing; all down stroke chugs not unlike a soundcheck or amplifier test, but that’s the beauty and effectiveness of this song. It gives the listener a break from the onslaught, and gives Longstreth a chance to really flex his chops. His kit is tuned perfectly and the mix is inspiring, both from a listener and player standpoint. ‘Burden of Prescience’ further exploits the tasty sounding kit and simpler riffs, with Longstreth going off Mike Portnoy style with a mini drum solo mid-way through the song, with Paul Ryan graciously giving him room to shine as he keeps the chugs moving.

Proper closer ‘Unequivocal’ is easily the most daring leap of faith the band has taken, a nearly ten minute epic that centers around gasp melancholic and oddly uplifting melodies amidst a standard death metal aesthetic. This might not sit well with the more hardcore elite, but to this reviewer’s ears it is a welcome change amidst a pile of same-y, sterile, and phoned in albums as many extreme bands pump out products instead of passion, worried about how to keep the lights on. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, and the band continues to expand their sound and love what they do.

In carrying with tradition, the album closes out with a cover, this time in the form of Brujeria’s ‘Revolucion’. The song features Jessica Pimentel on guest vocals, known for her role as Maria Ruiz on the Netflix favorite Orange is the New Black. When not on set, Pimentel doubles as a vocalist in Alekhine’s Gun, and injects the song with proper Spanish spirit.

Origin continues to defy the laws of physics and capacity of human stamina. If we’re counting beats per minute, on any instrument, other bands have surfaced who parallel or surpass them, but it’s the delivery that counts. Their longevity will depend on continuing with this trajectory of open-mindedness, not too frightened or proud to funk it up or add some color for mood. The conviction remains, and for that they stay at the top of the heap.