What’s it about French Canada that causes them to have excellent tech death bands? First Fragment is yet another one in the string of such bands, and they definitely live up to the stereotype. Their debut album Dasein, five years in the making, was anticipated quite a bit by those who had listened to their excellent EP The Afterthought Ecstasy. Playing in the lines of greats like Gorod, Beyond Creation and Beneath the Massacre, the band’s debut album is an instant classic. Full of over the top melodic technical playing, Dasein is a joy to listen through and through.
What makes a great tech death album? Is it how fast they play? How over the top the riffing is, how ridiculous the drumming is? Well, yes, but not entirely. What makes a great tech death album is the same thing that makes a great album of any genre. Good songwriting. And coincidentally, that’s what First Fragment are pretty great at. The tools of their trade are in practice pretty simple. Delicious grooves a la Gorod play a pretty big part in their sound. Similar to the French masters (whose former drummer happens to have joined First Fragment after Dasein’s recording), they use dissonant and melodic riffs to add character to what would otherwise be ridiculously fast songs. Combining the guitar-intensive approach of Beyond Creation (First Fragment songs have more instrumental sections than vocals for the most part) and blazing speed of BTM, the band at times sound like a “best of” of the genre.
That’s not to say that they sound derivative. So many bands in the genre focus on being overly complex with their writing that there is a level of simplicity that is often glossed over. Combining and streamlining the core aspects of what defines a style is sometimes a fresh take. Going back to the basics and building a sound up from that works very well in Dasein. Blast beats, riffing that is complex yet appreciable and prominent bass playing are the tools mainly employed here. They spice up the sound from time to time, with the flamenco intro to “L’entité”, the classical guitar piece “Prélude En Sol Dièse Mineur” – there’s quite a bit of variety here.
But the riffs. The riffs are the real highlight here. Every moment is ridiculously memorable, going from soaring leads, delicious melodic lines, smooth tapping duels, stupidly fast trem picking to grooves that are unstoppably bounce-worthy. A typical criticism of tech death is that it can devolve into a garbled mess of overplaying, with nothing to latch onto. That’s not the case here, as the band have expertly crafted transitions and buildup-release dynamics in order to make every song have an unstoppable momentum. Coupled with the perfectly crisp production, the album is overall flawlessly executed.
Dasein is an album that could easily be pointed at as an archetypal technical death metal album. Basically a love letter to the genre, it’s infectiously memorable and groovy. Fans of the genre can find much to appreciate here, and it would serve as an excellent starting point for those looking to delve deeper as well. First Fragment have knocked it out of the park with their debut album, and shown yet again that there is something special about French Canada that leads to excellent tech death that is a must-listen.