Welcome back once again to Starter Kit, Heavy Blog’s weekly exploration of different subgenres rounded out with three releases that serve as good starting points for further listening. We’ve got several of these subgenres in the bag so far, the latest one being Simon’s excellent take on OG Progressive Deathcore, but today’s is rather exceptional in its musical wizardry.
Neo-classical tech death is an admittedly rather small offshoot of technical death metal as a whole; while tech death is already all about complexity, experimentation, and somewhat progressive elements molded together over a death metal skeleton, neo-classical tech death grounds itself in (as one would expect) classical music as much as it does death metal. While the heaviness remains, there is a uniquely polished quality in neo-classical tech death, and motifs and progressions from classical music are often borrowed to be augmented with blast beats and the like. Some bands opt for orchestral backing tracks to match the riffage and others do not, but the melodies are still very present, even if without backing tracks they may not be as immediately apparent.
One of the other staples of neo-classical tech death — which has since begun to bleed into other forms of death metal, albeit to a lesser extent — is extended solos that sometimes resemble, say, violin lines far more than they do traditional guitar solos, death metal or otherwise. Instead of featuring whammy bar antics and ‘dirty’ sounding shredding, the subgenre emphasizes extremely clean sweep picking that matches classical progressions underneath, as well as swift legato lines with occasional but comparatively minimal reliance on blues/pentatonic notes as one would otherwise expect. Unlike some of the other subgenres we’ve covered on Starter Kit, there is very little to mosh to here; the focus, in the end, is largely on the virtuosity on display. When listening to the three albums below, try to imagine how melodies or solos would sound like when played on classical instruments for maximal effect, but do remember that neo-classical tech death is still tech death at the end of the day!
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since the now-infamous Epitaph was released to the unsuspecting public; put simply, this is the album that well and truly started it all. Necrophagist‘s debut Onset of Putrefaction admittedly did have extremely neo-classical solos, but the rest of the riffage was fairly standard as death metal went, whereas Epitaph, with its incredibly clean production, virtuosic playing, and heavily neoclassical elements, absolutely blew the metal world away (and one could argue the lack of a followup since has only added to its mystique). The album surprisingly still holds up quite well next to modern tech death over ten years later, and is still one of the few albums in the genre to directly incorporate melodies from existing classical pieces by composers such as Prokofiev and Beethoven into its runtime. What better place to start?
Their most well known lineup born from the ashes of Necrophagist’s notoriously ongoing hiatus, people expected great things from Obscura, and the band delivered them in spades. Omnivium is highly technical from start to finish, but the songs are cohesively written and not overwhelmingly difficult to digest — however, it bears remembering that the album is very much a tech death album first and foremost, and while its neo-classical influences are definitely present, they do take more of a backseat here than on Epitaph — which in some ways makes it an ideal introduction for those not entirely willing to take a plunge off the subgenre’s deep end.
Fleshgod Apocalypse have gained quite the reputation for their heavily symphonic works over the years. Of the three albums in today’s Starter Kit, Agony is the one that well and truly wears its heart on its sleeve, in that the entire album has a symphonic backing running throughout the relentless riffage. That being said, it’s also probably the least ‘tech death’ album of the three, in that the guitars are not as complex, presumably to give the orchestral backing more room to breathe, and guitar solos are more traditional-sounding than the expected barrage of squeaky clean sweeps; yet few other bands in the genre incorporate classical overtones in a way that’s still fairly accessible for standard death metal fans, and even fewer do it quite as well as Fleshgod.