Let’s be frank: it’s easy to articulate points against an album. Flaws are down-to-earth; when something goes wrong, it’s anyone’s task to describe why it failed. If a musician’s performance doesn’t land, it’s not difficult to argue why and provide concrete examples. And, far more often than not, flaws are the result of some mundane process within the music, something like a bad production job or a series of slip-ups in the music.

The other side of this coin is that, for reviewers, there’s a consistent struggle to find the words necessary to describe a good album. One can wax philosophical on why the album works, attempt to locate key aspects that make the record a pleasure to listen to, or contextualize the album to see why it stands out in its scene, but far too often, the reason an album is good is ethereal, and it’s nigh impossible to ever pinpoint the exact reason an album is pleasing to the ears and the mind. Consequently, it’s taken quite some time to finally commit the proverbial pen to paper and review the new album from American progressive death metal powerhouse Alustrium.

Their new record, A Tunnel To Eden, is a masterpiece for reasons that can’t be truly fathomed until it’s listened to. The songwriting, in theory, does nothing to differentiate the band from their peers, but the exceptional quality makes them stand out in a crowded scene. Alustrium takes the conventions of their genre (conventions which are, quite honestly, tired and worn out at this point), and makes them work so well that they sound novel again.

From the beginning of the album’s eponymous opener, to the 33-minute three-part closing track, every note hits home. The dance of guitar between the hard-hitting rhythms and deftly interwoven leads is phenomenal; never once do the two guitar parts get in the way of the other, instead choosing to trade off focus for a one-two punch of heaviness and melody. The drums pound and crash away, lending an almost-tangible weight to the grooviness of every song and imbuing the record with a perfectly-paced energy. Beneath all of this, the bass anchors the band with its subterranean rumbling, accompanying the rest of the instrumentation in a fairly standard style that keeps everything else from veering off into heady and unpredictable territory. The vocals performance, while, again, standard, adds a human element of emotionality that merges quite nicely with Alustrium’s earthy and organic riffing.

The songwriting deserves a limelight entirely separate from the instrumentation: everything is paced incredibly well, no riff is anything less than good, and never once does one find themselves wishing a part would be over sooner or could have gone on longer. A groove never overstays its welcome; every lead is tempered by thoughtful moderation in terms of its length and complexity. Special mention must be given to the three-part, half-hour-and-change closing track, “The Illusion of Choice”; it’s a fantastic example of how to write a long-form suite. Diverse, soaring, and suitably epic, it’s easily one of the fastest-moving tracks on the album despite its colossal length.

It bears mentioning that, for anyone not already into the progressive death metal genre, A Tunnel To Eden is a great place to start. No one track, save for the closer, is more than seven minutes in length, and each song feels separate enough to provide a fresh look at the genre’s many conventions. This is an excellent introductory album to a genre that can, at times, be impenetrably dense.

At its core, A Tunnel To Eden is a collection of relatively standard songs: very little here is breaking new ground or in any way forcing the listener to expand their auditory palate. Sonically, nothing challenges established paradigms and conventions with the genre, but that just doesn’t matter here. Every song, every riff, is crafted with a master’s touch. Alustrium doesn’t need to be anything other than standard, because with this album, they’ve become the standard for their genre.

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Alustrium – A Tunnel To Eden gets…

4.5/5

-SH

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