Nuclear explosion footage is a fascinating and horrifying historical artifact: A massive mushroom cloud, houses within the blast radius being completely vaporized, unconscionable heat melting down everything in its path. We’ve all seen the footage. It’s a common and mortifying set of images that draw us back to humanity’s recent dark history, entrenched firmly in the visual lexicon of western culture while simultaneously presenting a real and constant threat that towers over the present. In the case of Quebec’s The Aftermath, nuclear obliteration serves our purposes here as a metaphor. Sudden, quick, and total annihilation of anything and everything within range. That’s how my brain and ears feel after having listened to their debut record Vermine several times. It’s a destructive, scientific, utterly intense musical experience, and I loved every second of it.
For those unfamiliar, The Aftermath are a technical death metal band that have existed for a decade, but up until this month had only officially released a pair of EPs. That’s a fairly paltry amount of music for a band that has been active for as long as they have. While both of these EP releases were fantastic, one had to wonder whether the band was capable of unleashing their full potential in LP format. That question is answered with definitive force in Vermine, which not only is the band’s finest work to date, but is also one of the best technical death metal records I’ve heard this year. Regardless of how you enjoy and approach tech death, there is something for you to enjoy here.
Grounding their sound in the textures of elder subgenre statesmen like Gorguts, The Aftermath attack the tech death songwriting playbook with verve, incorporating a fantastic array of instrumental flourishes that should make just about every tech death fan salivate. Riffs flow through Vermine in an utter abundance, feeling both visceral and fresh as the record progresses. As a fantastic opening salvo, “Shine” takes about five seconds to transition from atmospheric sample piece to full-on tech death war machine. William Lapointe’s vocal performance on this track (and throughout the record) is absolutely ferocious, filled with guttural murmurings, throat-tearing growls, and enough throaty splatters of disgust to fill a Deadwood saloon spittoon. From the opening notes of this track, there is no reprieve from the audio maelstrom. Stephane Simard’s guitar work is next-level throughout, incorporating just about every guitar trick in the book into these tracks with unrivaled passion and precision, with his work shining particularly brightly throughout “Tropic Goat”, which includes a lighter, technical passage coupled with thundering bells as backing rhythm. All of these sounds are brought to the forefront with a fantastic mix and overall production strategy that allows these instruments to cut like knives, obscuring nothing.
While The Aftermath certainly bring their own distinctive and unique flair to bear on Vermine, there are passages here that may feel a bit like a death metal-infused The Dillinger Escape Plan in their inherent technicality. But The Aftermath pull from a fairly wide range of influences throughout the record, leaning closer overall to Nightmarer spliced with Artificial Brain than they do bands like Dillinger, Ion Dissonance, or The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganze. All of these math/technical influences work together to allow them to create something that feels reverent to the bands and sounds that made this music great without ever feeling like a mere redundancy. These songs are dark sonic weapons that rival the work of Archspire and Napalm Death in sheer intensity and feel intended to decimate through sheer sonic brutality rather than dazzle with their technical wizardry (though that black magic is most certainly present and effective). I would posit that this is a good thing, allowing the band to focus their writing on effective and powerful songs rather than a dogged emphasis on the more technical aspects of their instrumentation. It allows the more flashy elements to feel purposeful as opposed to merely random, and serves Vermine incredibly well throughout.
The remainder of the album brings this same fire as its first two songs, with literally zero tracks serving as a weak spot. Hell, even the instrumental/sample-filled “Black Meth” has enough dramatic and instrumental heft in its one-and-a-half minutes to carry the album’s maniacally aggressive pace through to its appropriately world-destroying conclusion, “The Seal”. Keeping the entire endeavor to a trim and lean 25-minutes, it’s almost shocking that the band were able to fit this many ideas into so small a span of time. But it’s one of the principal elements that make The Aftermath so mesmerizing and special in this space of the metal world. The band clearly understands that brevity is the soul of good tech death, and pack their best ideas into a compact whole that feels exactly as long as it needs to be. There’s no filler here. Instead, Vermine is a perfect example of a band that knows exactly what they want to do, and do it with as much precision and intensity as they can conjure. There are no dull lulls or unnecessary instrumental doohickery to distract from the band’s ultimate objective: To destroy you with music. It works and is worthy of special commendation.
Every inch of this album is crawling with excellence. This is without question one of my favorite tech death albums I’ve heard in a good while and should find itself on many a death metal fans’ year-end lists. But that’s for later. For now, let’s revel in the violent musical landscape The Aftermath have created for us. Give this album the time it needs to unfold its vast array of riches and you will not be disappointed. A lights-out nuclear blast of a debut.
Vermine is out now via PRC Music, and is streaming and available for purchase on the band’s Bandcamp page.