We’re back with another list of Heavy Blog’s “Best Of!” This time around, we are bringing to you some staff picks from the world of technical death metal. We won’t spoil it for you up here, but read on to find out what we think is the cream of the crop and then feel free to leave us comments about how wrong we are.
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence (1991)
While the genre was still in its infancy, a band came around and released one of the most defining records in the genre. Unquestionable Presence is an onslaught of tech death that set the standard for its successors. Think of any band that came after them and they likely took a page or two from Atheist’s book. Aside from the sheer amount of metal, there are also subtle hints of Latin vibes on this record. A lot of the guitar parts mimic flamenco, at times, and some of the sections move in a salsa-fusion fashion that is very difficult to describe. You will just have to listen to the record and hear it for yourself to get the full understanding of it. Aside from the Latin vibes, the metal on this record is spectacular. It still retains a very “live” feel due to the absence of a mechanic nature; by this, I mean it feels as if people are playing it. It’s not so clean-cut and polished as many modern tech-death records are. There’s a certain honesty on this record that is hard to find anywhere else in the genre, and if you’re a fan of modern tech-death, you’d be missing out big time if you passed this classic record up.
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– Spencer Snitil
Death – Human (1991)
The early nineties was an exciting time to be immersed in the quickly evolving realm of technical death metal, and no band had a stronger impact on the musical landscape than Death. While previous album Spiritual Healing began the transition away from gore soaked lyrics and simplistic riffing, Human embraced a complete stylistic shift with full force; a jarring, yet necessary step for the band and the future of death metal as a whole. With the addition of Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert of Cynic on guitar and drums, and Steve DiGiorgio from Sadus on bass, Chuck Schuldiner spearheaded a campaign to make his previous bandmates eat their words and swallow their musical pride. Lyrics focused on human emotion, afflictions, and relationships, many of them detailing what Schuldiner endured with past members spreading rumors and lies about him. Musically, the addition of Masvidal and Reinert added an improvisational, jazzy flair to Schuldiner’s girthy riffing prowess, increasing in tempo, precision, and heaviness to craft a devastating album that would mark as the blueprint for all future Death releases.
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– Dan Weiten
Cryptopsy – None So Vile (1996)
It’s nigh impossible to talk about technical death metal without mentioning Cryptopsy and their landmark album None So Vile. These crazy Canadian wizards crafted an album that is still looked back upon with much reverence and has influenced legions of bands that are now leading the tech-death pack, including Origin, Decapitated and Psycroptic. It’s almost unassuming when you look at the album’s cover, which is a painting by Baroque painter Elisabetta Sirani, but the depiction of Herodias holding the decapitated head of John the Baptist serves as an adequate visual counterpart to the sonic flaying that awaits when you press play. Opening track “Crown of Horns” starts with a snippet from The Exorcist III of a beast growling before the now-legendary Lord Worm matches it with a snarl of his own, and from that point on, the musical genius and sinisterness of Cryptopsy is on full display. Guitarist Jon Levasseur assaults the listener with disemboweling riff after riff, and drummer Flo Mounier plays with the ferocity and precision of a hostile, otherworldly creature that has to have at least eight arms. The compositions are as complicated as they are brutal, and after one listen to None So Vile, you’ll be hooked on everything these killer Canucks have to offer. None So Vile is true classic within the technical death metal genre, and one that no fan of extreme music should go without, as it is the very embodiment of “extreme.”
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– Aaron Lambert
Martyr – Warp Zone (2000)
The current landscape of technical death metal may have most people looking at the US and Europe (mostly Sweden and Germany) for bands leading death metal into ever more technically evolved realms. Yet in a setting such as this, the ever fruitful and continuously surprising Canadian scene can often be overlooked. After all, Canada is the homeland of the highly acclaimed Gorguts and the younger Beyond Creation. Also hidden away is a very talented and almost equally unknown band by the name of Martyr.
Martyr’s eighteen years in obscurity produced only three full-length albums; the first two of which were independently released. The band is currently claimed to be on hold which is quite a shame seeing how talented they are, and there is no finer example of this talent than their second album Warp Zone. Released over fifteen years ago, boasting some very intricate riffs and drum patterns that showcased this band’s talent, Martyr reached some very impressive technical highs with Warp Zone in less than forty minutes. This level of musicianship is unparalleled in this day and age and it really did produce an album that is a must for fans of technical death metal worldwide.
– Aly Hassab El Naby
Decapitated – Winds of Creation (2000)
Describing Winds of Creation as Decapitated’s humble beginning is not an entirely accurate assessment. Sure, later offerings such as Nihility and Organic Hallucinosis may technically be “better” albums, but the fact that these four teenage Pols — their ages ranged from fifteen to eighteen when they record the album — were able to churn out a better tech death debut than musicians twice their age is a testament to how much talent Decapitated exhibited at such an early stage in their career. This would not be possible without the impeccably in-sync tag team of brothers Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka and Witold “Vitek” Kiełtyka. Vogg’s proficient riffing remains perpetually interesting, as his fingers waltz across the fretboard to provide runs that are both devastatingly punishing and catchy. Showing no desire to be outshone by his older brother, Vitek provides precise percussion with a distinctly groovy flair, which is made even more impressive by his place at the bottom rung of the aforementioned age ladder. Winds of Creation may not be Vitek’s fastest or most refined work, but from the time he joined the band at age twelve until his tragic death in a van accident at age twenty-seven, he recorded some of the best tech death drumming laid to tape. Vogg and crew have continued on with solid releases in Vitek’s stead, but Decapitated’s triumphant debut should still be viewed by serious tech death fans as the genre landmark that it rightfully is.
– Scott Murphy
Dying Fetus – Destroy the Opposition (2000)
Dying Fetus’ conglomeration of styles has influenced countless tech death, BDM and grindcore bands alike, due largely to how aptly the band personifies all of death metal’s greatest qualities: mesmerizing technicality, devastating brutality and dizzying tempos. As soon as “Praise the Lord (Opium of the Masses)” opens with one of the greatest riffs in death metal’s history, it becomes apparent just how perfectly Destroy the Opposition proves this point. Not only do each of the album’s eight tracks include succulent sweeps, blast beats, slams, breakdowns and riffs, but Dying Fetus seamlessly weave these elements into cohesive, memorable songs that leave the listener with a distinct experience rather than mindless heaviness. This fact remains just as true for the nearly six-minute opus of “Justifiable Homicide” as it does for the barely two-minute assault of “Pissing In the Mainstream;” regardless of length, Dying Fetus known exactly which musical ideas to write and how long they need to last to leave their impact without overstaying their welcome. And of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the vocals of John Gallagher, famously labeled as a Satanic toad due to his swamp floor level gurgles that enhance the band’s heaviness tenfold. Destroy the Opposition may not have the shine and sheen of other tech death classics, but in terms of unwavering aural punishment, it is unmatched in its class.
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– Scott Murphy
Arsis – A Celebration of Guilt (2004)
By the early-to-mid 2000s, it seemed that the more melodic side of death metal had run its course. Most of the subgenre’s biggest successes had either shifted towards more accessible territory or split up altogether. The style was just begging for a kick in the pants, and Arsis’ 2004 debut album A Celebration of Guilt was absolutely the jolt of inspiration and energy needed. Recorded with just two members, the album tears through 11 tracks of modestly-recorded and punishingly flashy metal that can hang with any number of legendary bands out there. Guitarist/vocalist James Malone constantly flies through with bombastic solos, tap-heavy riffs and even an occasional breakdown with such confidence, ease and anger, all while being backed up by Mike Van Dyne’s warp-speed drumming. And while this album instantly proved that these former Berklee students had more than enough chops, A Celebration of Guilt never falters into overly-showy territory. Every song is rooted in a deep love and respect of classic 80s metal and hard rock, helping give the listener something to latch onto despite the band constantly going for the jugular. Few albums in the past decade have come close to masterfully pushing the limits of the genre while still paying homage to the bands that made us fall in love with metal to begin with. An absolute classic.
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– Kit Brown
The Faceless – Planetary Duality (2008)
Planetary Duality sits in a strange place in The Faceless’ discography. Prior to this monumental record, the band were known as an up-and-coming band contributing to the burgeoning “Sumeriancore” movement, with their debut Akeldama having a strong foothold in deathcore. At their most recent stage in their career on Autotheism, The Faceless can be heard sacrificing much of their brutality and technicality for prog. 2008’s Planetary Duality however is a highly regarded and influential record that serves as a potent entry-level tech death portal. Bands have come and gone attempting to emulate the mechanical science-fiction aesthetic since its release, but nothing has quite captured the atmosphere Planetary Duality managed to score. This record put The Faceless on the map, and it is quite likely the reason you know that this band exists in the first place. It may be an obvious choice for a list such as this, but it’s obvious for a reason. Planetary Duality is without a doubt a modern tech death standard.
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– Jimmy Rowe
Son of Aurelius – The Farthest Reaches (2010)
Sometimes, you want to listen to the rawer parts of a band’s career. Something about the sincerity and directness of debut albums or simply the return to a different style compels you. With Son of Aurelius, it might simply be a desire to return to the technical and much heavier debut album. While the follow up to The Farthest Reaches was brilliant indeed, the debut has much to offer, especially to fans of technical. Featuring plenty progressive and melodic parts that belie what’s to come, The Farthest Reaches has the perfect balance between blazing fast guitars, insanely on point drums and an overall production value that’s sometimes missing from the genre. Without messing about, the half an hour and change feature hints towards Death with more melodic and classically inspired segments, like on track “Let Them Hate And Fear”, mixed with far more modern iterations, such as opening track “Mercy For Today”. End of the day, the charm and honesty of Son of Aurelius’s debut should serve to help this album live out of the shadow of its successor, holding a firm place in the annals of technical death.
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– Eden Kupermintz
Gorod – A Perfect Absolution (2012)
French death metal outfit Gorod may have struggled to stay active seemingly since their inception, but 2012’s A Perfect Absolution is proof enough that even through the downtime and revolving door of musicians, Gorod are among the best in the genre. A Perfect Absolution marries progressive and technical death metal to create a stunning instrumental environment and criminally catchy songwriting that explores influences in jazz, funk, and world music. Not even taking into account contributions from Christian Muenzner (ex-Obscura, ex-Necrophagist) and Michael Keene (The Faceless), the string work across the record is phenomenal, yet expertly curated; perhaps technical death metal is known collectively as a genre of flashy wank, but A Perfect Absolution is only as flashy as it needs to be. This studied musicianship serves as a backdrop to the compelling true story of Olga of Kiev, who vows brutal vengeance against the forest-dwelling tribe that killed her husband and King. On all levels, A Perfect Absolution truly is the perfect album for death metal fans seeking depth and substance.
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– Jimmy Rowe
Spawn of Possession – Incurso (2012)
Tech death has seen some stellar albums in its two-odd decades of existence; however, the highest expression yet of the virtuosity and sophistication that the genre demands only came around in 2012, when Spawn of Possession saw fit to unleash Incurso onto the unsuspecting masses. Granted, its predecessor, 2006’s incredible Noctambulant, was some indication of what’s to come, but Incurso managed to take that sound, sharpen it to an unimaginable degree, and then bring it to entirely new heights. Jonas Bryssling’s impossibly intricate twin guitar work beautifully ties together classical overtones with punishing death metal, as Christian Muenzner’s chaotic yet calculated solos periodically drop in to rain hell over the proceedings. Tracks such as the masterfully dissonant “Bodiless Sleeper” and the 10-minute centerpiece that is “The Evangelist” are nearly albums unto themselves considering the sheer amount of riffs and progressions on display, while “Apparition”, the stunning album closer, finally brings Spawn of Possession’s neoclassical sound the magnificent orchestral backing it deserves.
What truly makes the composition on Incurso so great, however, is just how much it rewards being revisited. Indeed, every single new listen unearths something that had gone previously unnoticed. While the densely packed songwriting may border on being downright inaccessible on first listen even for fans of the genre, it never becomes outright chaotic, and there are few albums as satisfying to explore over and over until the songs slowly begin to unravel. It bears mentioning that in his original review of Incurso, Noyan downright called it the greatest tech death album of all time. Three years later, there’s arguably yet to be a release since that’s even half as worthy* of the title.
*(though one could potentially make a case for Colored Sands here)
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– Ahmed Hasan