Welcome to Death’s Door! Wipe your feet on the mat. Don’t want any oil getting on the floor. Yes, you heard me correctly. Oil. OIL. Everywhere. I remember a time when Hell was just covered in blood, now we’ve got these god-forsaken machines running around everywhere. Oh, but they don’t have SOULS they said. Tell that to my hellhound. All dogs do indeed go somewhere, and it isn’t always to the pearly gates. Anyhoo, technical death metal is king of the castle in 2017, and there isn’t much we can do about it. Sentient robots, alien lifeforms, and all that jazz. What a year it’s been, and frankly the amount of amazing music still to be heard troubles me. I don’t have time for this. I have shit to do. But here we are, discussing another ferocious month of death metal insanity. Grab a bone chair and make yourself a Bloody Mary (she won’t mind), there’s some good stuff to cover.
As I said above, technical death metal has had one of its best and most productive years in a long time. We’ve covered many of the albums that have been released during this maelstrom, and have more to give you this week. Thankfully, Scott is here to share the inestimable load of reportage on the goods. While I began to fear that quality releases could not keep pace with the earlier portions of the year, that thankfully has been far from the case. Month after month death metal churns out more premium content, and we could not be more grateful. When will it end? Hopefully never. But either way, a guide to the smorgasbord that was September awaits. Let’s get down to it.
Cream of the Crop
Gigan – Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence
Technical death metal most certainly has an otherworldly quality to it, both in technical execution and content. However, much of this music has a definably human component that grounds it in our own reality. Whether it be NYN’s fantastic use of Eastern instrumentation and compositional style or Doug Moore’s prescient observations for Pyrrhon, much of the music produced in technical death metal builds its transcendent sound structures on very human archetypes. Not Gigan, though. Because they aren’t human. They can’t be. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with their new album Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence, and have resigned myself to waiting for our more easily frightened brethren to begin picketing outside their shows with signs reading “GO BACK HOME” or “THIS IS OUR PLANET”. This album is fantastic to an extraterrestrial extent, and should be listened to immediately.
Being the band’s fourth record, it would be fairly easy to assume that Gigan hit their stride an album or two ago. While the band’s previous record, the much-loved by yours truly Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery and Super Science, was a revelation of sci-fi-infused tech death mayhem, this album does it one better by creating a compositional and performance style that feels more organic and grandiose than its predecessor. Where the former felt incredibly methodical and meticulously constructed, this record feels much more free-form in its construction. That isn’t to say that this record is disorganized or without structure, though, and that’s the beauty of it. Gigan find themes and threads in nearly every track that hold the music to the planet, and give the album a sense of structure that many tech death albums do not have. “Wade Forward Through Matter and Backwards Through Time” and “Plume of Ink Within a Vacuum” in particular share this quality, making some zany songwriting feel approachable and decipherable, even though it may take a few listens to pick up the nuances in each track. This is mainly due to the absolutely fantastic musicianship and songwriting on display, as guitars and an impeccable rhythm section stack, layer, congeal, fall apart, then start the whole process over again throughout the entirety of the record. There are truly masterful performances contained within each of these well-constructed and written tracks, making the record a delight from start to finish.
They may not be human, but Gigan deserve our admiration and support. I for one welcome our technical death metal alien overlords, and hope you will join me in giving them the adulation they rightly deserve. All hail our extraterrestrial conquerors!
Best of the Rest
Archspire – Relentless Mutation
What else is there to say about Archspire? Canadian technical death metal gods are back with a new record that is every bit as good as I wanted it to be. Riffing off of Necrophagist, and inhabiting a world dominated by the Revocation and Beyond Creations of the world, Archspire are what peak performance looks like. Obviously, we’ll go into more detail, but good lord am I happy this thing exists. With as sterling a track record as this band has, it seems inevitable that they will eventually release a dud. All good things end eventually. Thankfully, that day is not today, because Relentless Mutation may be their best album to date.
Relentless Mutation contains all the things that make them unique. Absolutely manic technicality, Oli Peters’ abrasive mumble-rap delivery, and songwriting that takes we lucky listeners to the furthest corners of sanity. But there are some new elements and flourishes that make this record unique in the band’s catalog, as well as separate the band from their contemporaries. One of these is the band’s playing with tempo and tone, which is clearly evident in the album’s opening track “Involuntary Doppelganger”, which includes a left-field, calmly played coda that adds an entirely new, lush dynamic to a song that is otherwise as relentless as they come. Melody is another primary focus of Relentless Mutation as well, primarily in “The Mimic Well”, which aside from being a typically hard-hitting banger is absolutely gorgeous. The band on this record have taken their traditional and successful formula and have added depth, contour, and agility to their already dextrous sound. The results are immediately recognizable and incredibly impactful.
You’ve heard all this already, I’m sure. If you haven’t listened to this album yet and you are even remotely intrigued by tech death, I mean…why? With Relentless Mutation, Archspire are at the absolute top of their game, and have created an album that is without question their most diverse and, in my mind, to this point their peak artistic statement. Get on it.
Faceless Burial – Grotesque Miscreation
One of my favorite aspects of death metal is its diversity. Whenever we sit down to curate Death’s Door, Jonathan and I always seem to come to the table with releases from nearly every corner of the genre. Just look at our picks for the month: psychedelic space worship; hyper-technicality; tasteful Eastern influences; black, death and doom metal wrapped up in a melodic bow…need I say more? These are all incredible, genre-bending albums which Jonathan describes beautifully, and since he took the left hand path this month, I thought I’d use my allotted time at the altar to preach the good word of those carrying the torches of the old guard. Because as amazing as it is to witness the incredible inventiveness that’s constantly applied to the death metal formula, sometimes you just need a new band to remind you why you first fell in love with the genre’s core sound of gruesome, filthy brutality.
Moments like these call for a band like Faceless Burial, a trio from Australia who make music sourced straight from the real “Down Under.” Grotesque Miscreation soared through my admittedly harsh Bandcamp mining test, which I’ve recreated below as accurately as possible:
1.) Does the cover look like they put in at least a modicum of effort? Um, yes. 100% yes. Xavier Irvine’s cover is painted beautifully and manages to be gruesome without looking like an X-rated cartoon. And while I’m not sure if this is on purpose, I love how the color palette and landscape hearken back to Morbid Angel‘s Blessed Are the Sick.
2.) Are there any Nazi logos or similarly ideologically ignorant images? Nope!
3.) Does the first track warrant further listening? While I usually give albums a track or two before moving on (unless the initial moments are terrible), “Seeping Aberrational Fissures” grabbed me immediately with its thesaurus-porn title and the trio’s tightly wound death metal phalanx. Armed with the cerebral dexterity of Immolation, ferocity of Dismember and the blistering pace of Tucker-era Morbid Angel, the trio bring heaps of violent energy and consistently cohesive performances to each track on Grotesque Miscreation, making for one of the best traditional death metal albums of the year by far.
Beyond the seamless interplay between each member, the main driver of Faceless Burial’s success on the album is their ability to write riffs that Trey Azagthoth wish he’d thought of first. Füj’s opening guitar work on “Malignant Excavation” and “Dominion of Swelling Flesh and Chaos” provide the perfect balance of catchiness and brutality and propel each track into motion with an insane amount of momentum, aided by Max Kohane’s adept action behind the drumkit. The guitar playing continues to level listeners throughout the album, such as the shining example of death metal exhibited on the title track. Füj throws in flourishes at just the right moments between sludge-ridden chugs, and after the middling pace takes off for a brief accelerated romp, the whole gang brings the track to a destructive climax complete with a cacophonous, improvisational-esque jam.
The track is one of many highlights on an album constantly operating at peak performance. Faceless Burial deserves a magnanimous processional, and hopefully fans of the genre will take notice of the trio’s exceptional synthesis of everything that makes death metal such a great genre. If they continue dropping records like Grotesque Miscreation, it won’t take long for them to earn the recognition they deserve.
Horrified – Allure of the Fallen
Influences are an essential component of extreme music. Nearly every band has an influence tree where one can chart the natural evolution of sound and structure and come to a logical conclusion as to what bands and sounds influenced a given group. For Horrified, Horrendous is the trunk, roots, and soil of said tree. The UK outfit’s principle songwriter and lyricist Dan Alderson so adequately apes the vocal style of Damain Herring that you would be forgiven for thinking that Allure of the Fallen’s opening title track was actually the new Horrendous joint. You would be wrong, of course, but the comparison is apt. This may seem like a knock on the band, but I assure you it isn’t. While Horrified wear their influences proudly on their sleeves, there is an insane amount of sonic treasure to be found in their latest and best release, which stands as one of the most accomplished and enjoyable melodic death (with hints of black and doom) metal to be released this year.
While the band’s earlier work was heavily influenced by the Swedish death metal scene, the band for the most part eschews the production stylings and instrumental tone of that movement for a rich and epic sound palette in Allure of the Fallen. These songs are chock full of melody and dynamic instrumentation, from the opening frames of the title track to the epic, propulsive finale “The Promise of Solace”. Horrified also doesn’t play favorites with subgenres, using a hefty dose of black metal instrumentation in “Light’s Dissolution” and doom metal in the back half of “The Perceiver”. But it all works together as a fantastic whole, never feeling like anything other than Horrified doing exactly what they do best.
This is a great record. Full stop. If you enjoy melodic death metal and any of its hybrids, this album should be at the top of your list. It is an essential listen for death metal fans this year, and should pop up on quite a few year-end lists.
Sutrah – Dunes
More tech death. It just never ends. This time we travel to Canada (the international home for all things tech and lovely), where Sutrah are spinning heads and snapping necks with their debut record Dunes. Like fellow countrymen Archspire and Chthe’ilist (of which guitarist Claude Leduc is also a member), Sutrah peddle aggressive, highly technical songwriting into a veritable hurricane of death metal prowess. But Sutrah isn’t a mere copy of other bands in a legendary scene. Not in the slightest, actually. With their debut record, the band transcends the confines of pure tech death by creating a much more diverse hybrid of technical prowess, Eastern influence, and progressive song structures that make this one of the most accomplished death metal debuts of the year, and one of the best albums in the subgenre in general.
One thing Sutrah is not afraid to do is write long songs that allow their compositions to breathe and develop over a significant period of time. Five of this album’s eight tracks eclipse the seven-minute mark, giving the listener plenty to digest over the course of the album. While such extensive track lengths can be a detriment in less capable hands, Sutrah prove more than up to the challenge, creating a magnificent cornucopia of sounds that vary in tempo, tone, and style as each new song progresses. As “Stargazer” vacillates beautifully between blazing salvos and mid-tempo sections, the title track’s relentless barrage is matched by the ferocity of “Akrasia”, only to be subdued by the rich and varied soundscapes of finale “Babel”. It’s a diverse listen that held my attention from start to finish, which isn’t something I can say about every tech death record. If you haven’t heard this record yet, get on it. This band has a bright career ahead.