Last week, Eden and Noyan co-wrote an excellent piece on the necessity of recognizing progressive death metal as a subgenre and its delineation from technical death metal, a sibling genre, but nonetheless, one of great difference. At the end of that article, they hinted towards the existence of yet another sub-genre branching off from death, one which is younger than both progressive and technical death metal. Today, we’re venturing into another sister subgenre of death metal, albeit one that’s a little smaller and requires more of an introduction: post-tech death.
However, before we can define post-tech death, we have to specify what exactly makes up a “post-” genre. These genres, such as post-rock, post-metal, post-black metal, etc., are defined by a few aspects that have more to do with their relation to the genre they derive from than anything else. Post-rock, for instance, the basis of all post- genres, is heavily based on the classic rock instrumentation: combining guitars that err on the lighter side of the tonal spectrum, present bass lines, and a tendency for driving-yet-simple percussion, it is certainly a genre that goes hand-in-hand with rock, so what makes it different? Post-rock bands like Russian Circles, Explosions In The Sky, and Godspeed, You! Black Emperor place a much greater focus than the groups of their parent genre on emotional catharsis, ambiance, and minimal instrumentation, taking the tenets of rock music and twisting them to create music that is much more lush and textured. It is “post-rock” in that it has moved beyond the constraints of typical rock music and evolved from its confines to become its own genre that is recognizably connected but very much a different beast entirely.
Post-metal is to metal in the same way: evolving out of sludge metal and doom (in fact, another common name for post-metal is “atmospheric sludge metal”) with acts like Neurosis, Isis, and Rosetta, it places a much larger emphasis on emotional resolutions and inviting soundscapes, but takes many of its aesthetic cues and its sonic basis from the metal genre from which it sprang. Post-black metal does the same thing with black metal, with artists like An Autumn For Crippled Children and Alcest twisting the sound’s idiosyncrasies into a totally new territory of sonic exploration.
A post- genre, then, can be defined as a genre that builds off of the structure of its parent genre(s) into a sound with a much heavier emphasis on atmosphere, ambiance, and soundscapes, which usually (but not always) go hand-in-hand with a sense of emotional resonance and catharsis.
As with any musical movement, it’s hard to place a point of origin on a single album, band, or artist, but in the case of post-tech death, the three albums that could be said to have kicked off this trend, in its various forms, or at least to have been the most notable proto post-tech death albums, are The Faceless’s Planetary Duality (2008), Cynic’s Traced In Air (2008), and Ulcerate’s Everything Is Fire (2009). This triple-threat of extremely technical albums that all fall within the death metal sphere certainly had a shaping impact onto this subgenre, each in their own ways:
Planetary Duality, with its intense focus on creating a lush and textured atmosphere that complemented the music’s lyrical themes, brought out a latent tendency towards more reverberating, washed-out leads within the genre that bands like Vipassi and Hadal Maw (who share members, interestingly enough) use heavily to create grim soundscapes. Its heavy use of altered clean vocals and ambient passages also was something many bands took after in their music to achieve similar effects.
Traced In Air brought to the table a tremendous departure from traditional death metal while still building off of the genre’s typical framework. The guitars are barely distorted and practically psychedelic in tone, and their riffs, although they fall within the world of death metal in their writing, are hardly recognizable as such, given the environment they exist in. Cynic’s approach to death metal here is marked most notably by their departure from the typical conventions of the genre, something many bands, most notably Fallujah and Wrvth, seek to emulate and build off of in their own music.
Everything Is Fire is a crushing, sludgy, atonal beast of a tech death album with a huge focus on creating a dark, grim atmosphere out of technical death metal sonic staples like churning bass riffs and pounding, omnipresent blast-beats, showcasing a totally different way of achieving the same ends – emotional catharsis and creative soundscapes, chiefly – out of a different set of conventional means. The DNA for this monumental record can be traced back to the work of Gorguts, but in their absence, Ulcerate filled the void and contributed to the playbook employed by acts such as Ageless Oblivion and perhaps even Gorguts themselves in their eventual comeback in 2013’s Colored Sands.
Now that we’ve analyzed the origins and qualities of post-tech death, we can explore the most important question: how does it sound? Just as with any other post- genre, post-tech death is defined by the way it takes themes and sonic elements that are rudimentary to technical death metal and makes use of them in ways that create a much more potent atmosphere, poignant and resonant emotional qualities, and rich, diverse soundscapes. There are a myriad of ways that bands within this subgenre go about achieving this end, and now it’s up to us to explore them and finalize a definitive sound for this nebulous and hazy style of music.
Wrvth’s approach to post-tech death is heavily atmospheric and emotional, bringing in elements of metalcore and skramz/emo to characterize them as one of the premier post-tech death groups as it relates to emotional catharsis, building heavily on the ideas that both The Faceless and Cynic laid down of skewing the lens from which one views techdeath. Tracks like “Into Bloom” showcase this especially well, as the song starts off in territory that sounds more akin to Loma Prieta or Page 99 than any other technical death metal band, before switching into a more traditional mode around the 1:40 mark, but even here, they employ reverb-laden, washed-out leads to great effect to create a resonating and powerful atmosphere, and distort the sound of traditional techdeath to meet their own creative ends.
Even from the very start of Fallujah’s first full album, The Harvest Wombs, it’s clear that these guys also stand clearly in the post-techdeath realm. Taking a much more standard framework than a vast majority of their compatriots in this subgenre, they have a much more subtle and nuanced approach to the way they integrate atmosphere and soundscapes into their music, mostly in the tone of their guitars and their incorporation of almost black-metal-esque atmospheric elements that add a sense of grimness and grandiose scope to their pieces. The first track on The Harvest Wombs is a great place to hear these qualities in action, as “Alpha Incipient” starts off with some very post-metal bits before moving into a more traditional tech death area, but even here, the post-ness pervades through and leads to some very emotionally compelling and grandly lush moments across the track. Their brand of post-techdeath is most informed by The Faceless’s unorthodox use of leads for creating a powerful sense of atmosphere, but they certainly incorporate some of the off-kilter nature of Cynic as well.
After a decade-plus hiatus, Gorguts put out Colored Sands, their magnum opus according to many and their first foray into the emerging world of post-tech death (because, let’s face it; Obscura was many things, but it was not atmospheric). Their formula is atonal and brutal, at times oppressively heavy and other times eerie and menacing, a thin cloak of darkness and foreboding evil covering every second of the album. Effectively tagging back in after Ulcerate carried their torch forward, these Canadian legends channel atmospheric grimness into every second of their music, creating soundscapes that are demented and off-putting. They play around heavily with the use of technicality to conjure up swirling instrumental storms that confuse and disorient the listener, enveloping in the barren landscapes that the audience can easily become lost in. “Forgotten Arrows” is a perfect example of this, showing a band that knows how to bludgeon their listeners into submission and then pull back at the perfect moment to allow both the band and the listener to recoup before the next inevitable assault of sound.
Ageless Oblivion and Hadal Maw are two other integral players in the world of post-tech death, both of whom take elements from all three of the post-tech death “sounds” and mixing them together into what is, perhaps, the truest form of the genre. Both bands mix typical technical death metal with a much heavier focus on atmosphere and emotional resolution, letting their technicality set the stage for enticing soundscapes and powerfully climactic catharsis. Tracks like “Those Who Fed Of Light” and “Aetas De Morior” show off these attributes perfectly, and are some of the “purest” examples of the post-tech death sound.
We hope we’ve shown you that a new sub-genre is indeed being born here. The sound is distinct and unique while still being anchored in the established milieu of technical death metal. It draws on more atmospheric and ambient elements to infuse the basic sound with a size, expanse and emotional impact that transforms the music into something more, while still retaining its hold on technicality and brutal delivery.
Here, in the crucible of these bands and albums, a new genre is being formed, one that is emotionally stimulating and resolutely metal, equal parts intelligent and brutal, shaped by a constant musical dialogue between the simple and complex. Post-tech death is a treat for any fans of tech death and anybody who likes the concept, but wishes it wasn’t so sterile at times. Taking the best parts of the genre and twisting them to create original, engaging music, it’s a genre that is forward-focused and evolving, unique and fulfilling. And best of all, it’s just getting started.