Like Unique Leader before them, The Artisan Era is fast becoming the go-to label for all things prog and tech death, cultivating a roster of “who’s who” among up-and-coming names in the genre such as Warforged and Inanimate Existence while simultaneously attracting longstanding names in the genre by pressing releases for acts like Augury and Spawn of Possession. Chances are, if there’s a new band wearing The Faceless and Necrophagist influences on their sleeves and they’re worth the time and attention, The Artisan Era is backing them, their logo becoming a seal of quality.
The latest act to enter the spotlight out of Artisan Era is international extreme prog effort Equipoise. At its core, Virulent Depravity guitarist Nick Padovani leads a seven-member supergroup rounded out by Inferi vocalist Stevie Boiser, First Fragment guitarist Phil Tougas, Wormhole guitarist Sanjay Kumar, Beyond Creation bassist Hugo Doyon-Karout, NYN keyboard player Jimmy Pitts, and former The Faceless drummer Chason Westmoreland in an hour-plus flurry of intense progressive, melodic, and technical death metal that carries on in the Obscura school of thought without leaning too terribly on the established minutia of the genre. You know, fretless bass, point/counter-point songwriting, and syncopated octave riffs. Of course, those are all here in spades, but Equipose manages to cultivate a voice of their own.
Instrumental intro tracks tend to be largely unnecessary, but the two-and-a-half-minute track “Illborn Augury” serves as a mission statement for the record, featuring a revolving door of vignettes that hint at things to come: technical death metal with a sense of melodic grandiosity bolstered by layers of synths, pianos, and orchestral movements. The group makes the hard-sell right out of the gate, aided by the follow-up, “Sovereign Sacrifices,” which sets the pace for Demiurgus as incredibly fast. Riffs and melodies come at breakneck speed, with a Necrophagist feel to the tempo. Here, Equipoise play with the dynamic with acoustic guitars at the midway point, a contrast which is honestly dizzying.
“Alchemic Web Of Deceit” introduces the band’s flamenco and classical guitar influences early on in the album’s runtime, which later take spotlight on the instrumental shorts like “Shrouded” and “Reincarnated.” These influences aren’t necessarily consistently present across the record, but come and go to contribute to the progressive nature and diversity of the album experience. Keyboard and synth work from Jimmy Pitts provides a great deal of depth and nuance to the record, particularly on longer tracks such as “Dualis Flamel,” where he is allowed to take the reigns, trading flashy solos with a revolving list of guitar players (above) and Malcolm Pugh of Inferi and Colin Butler of Virulent Depravity.
Really, the whole of Demiurgus is comprised of the flashiest death metal around. Highlight “A Suit of My Flesh” is remarkably heavy in light of the surrounding tracks and imbues some rhythmic diversity with off-kilter chugging, start-stop riffing, and prominent bass leads bringing a much needed swagger to a record that does so much to remain in motion, while “Sigil Insidious” slows the tempo and allows the angular riffs to linger a bit longer. “Squall of Souls” is one late-coming standout that relies on more atmosphere and legato leads, bringing to mind the likes of Fallujah and Rivers of Nihil in its execution, and truth be told, this side of the band could be seen more often to bolster the dynamic.
Demiurgus is no doubt an exhilarating record, but its hour-plus runtime may fatigue listeners, especially considering how extreme much of these songs become in regards to speed and density. There’s a need for finer curation of a holistic album experience, and capped roughly twenty minutes shorter, listening fatigue and redundancy would no longer be much an issue, and folding some of the ideas explored in transition tracks into full-length songs would benefit the band going forward.
With this in mind, given the density, grandiosity, and technicality of it all, it’s undeniable that Demiurgus is one of the most ambitious albums the genre has seen in some time. From beginning to end, Demiurgus is an exercise in death metal virtuosity, capturing in one form or another everything there is to love about the progressive, technical, and melodic reaches of the genre.
Demiurgus is available March 8 via The Artisan Era.