The balance between technical nuance and sheer, unadulterated power in death metal is not always easy to strike. Often (at least to these polluted ears) it feels as if death metal bands must sacrifice one for the other, or fail miserably attempting to incorporate both. It’s an understandable difficulty. Technical ability and brutal riffs do not by themselves great songwriting make, and it’s, unfortunately, an all-too-frequent occurrence for bands to attempt to slap together various death metal styles into a disjointed sequence of songs with no real sense of purpose, direction, or stylistic cohesion. It’s incredibly refreshing when an album rolls into the ol’ inbox that balances the various aspects of the death metal styles it chooses to incorporate into a cohesive, bile-filled whole. Technical. Brutal. Punishing. Focused. That’s exactly what Construct of Lethe have done with their excessively excellent sophomore full-length record, Exiler. Mixing technical fireworks with the driving, chugging, furious pulse of some of death metal’s more surly progenitors, it’s a marriage of sound and style that is both increasingly rare and distinctly potent.
Construct of Lethe’s influences are not particularly difficult to hammer down once you’ve given the album some time to gestate. Mid-career Morbid Angel comes to mind immediately. The mix of blistering speed and manic aggression that Immolation have perfected throughout their illustrious career is present as well, with just a hint of Artificial Brain and Suffocation influence making itself known in some of the band’s riffs and guitar work, performed ably by throughout the record by Patrick Bonvin and Tony Petrocelly. This is high-octane, premium-grade death metal with enough technical wizardry and ridiculous riffs to keep most any death metal fan satisfied. It doesn’t take long for the band to display their unique, highly effective mix of technicality and brutality either, as “Rot of Augury” kicks off with what else but a guitar solo. This flashy sequence, undergirded by Kevin Paradis’ masterful double bass-filled drum work, eventually explodes into some propulsive, chugging riffs that change the entire complexion of the song from soaring to sinister at the drop of a hat. It can feel a bit jarring at first, but this dramatic change in tone and style is the exact type of songwriting the Construct of Lethe excels in, vacillating between and mixing death metal styles seamlessly into song structures that feel both diverse and cohesive. It’s a rare marriage of style and substance that is present throughout the record, and it works beautifully.
Front to back, the tracks on Exiler are exciting, fresh, and meticulously executed. The vocal work of Dave Schmidt is diverse and relentlessly aggressive throughout, and listening to him snarl his way through and around the incredible musicianship on display here is a true delight. “Fugue State” is a great example of the album’s highly effective approach to both vocal delivery and storytelling, mixing haunting spoken word passages and vicious growls to great effect through the track’s seven minutes. But the crown jewel of the record is undoubtedly “The Clot”, which is not only the best song the band have yet written, but one of my favorite death metal tracks of the year. Its ridiculously intense slow-build of an opening pays off in ways uncountable as the track proceeds, as the guitar and drum work reaching Ulcerate-levels of dizzying intensity while Schmidt’s vocals create an overpowering, sometimes terrifying compliment to the mania present in the music. It’s a stone-cold winner of a track that will be hard to top as the year continues.
It’s pretty difficult to find fault with Exiler. The runtime could debatably be trimmed in a few places without the album losing its overall impact, and the melding of styles may not be every listener’s proverbial cup of tea, but these minor issues in no way diminish the incredible body of work the band have unleashed upon us with Exiler. About as good as a sophomore outing can be, Construct of Lethe have once again proven themselves immensely talented musicians and capable songwriters, able to carry their ambitions to their logical and most potent conclusions. A generous, highly entertaining record that comes to you highly recommended.
Exiler is out now through Everlasting Spew Records, and is available for purchase and streaming on the label’s Bandcamp page.