A few months ago, Simon wrote an excellent piece about the fast-growing phenomenon of post-tech death, succinctly describing how early progenitors such as Cynic and The Faceless all the way to recent up-and-comers Wrvth and Fallujah have combined progressively-minded atmospheric and melodic sensibilities with the relentless and intricate attack of traditional tech death. While still a bit of a nascent trend that only saw its earliest beginnings as recently as the turn of the decade, it’s still enjoyed immense popularity throughout its lifespan, particularly because it’s really not an easy combination to pull off successfully.
But Swiss newcomers Virvum do exactly that. Debut album Illuminance throws out an almost disorienting amount of well-crafted riffs at the listener with each successive song, making for a particularly guitar-heavy attack in combination with brilliantly composed atmospheric moments. Said riffs are perhaps frequently reminiscent of Planetary Duality-era The Faceless, as is vocalist Bryan Berger’s delivery — but in no universe is that a bad thing, of course, and guitarists Nic Gruhn and Toby Koelman still successfully find their own riffing voice here rather than aping previous greats. The other obvious comparison to make here is with Fallujah, of course (Gruhn even briefly filled in as a live guitarist for them once) with the occasional smooth whammy bar-driven riff permeating the carefully calculated attack, but Virvum decidedly fall on the side of favouring relentless technicality over the Bay Area band’s comparatively heavy usage of dreamy atmospheres and synths. Although it’s occasionally a little too prominent in the mix at the expense of the drums, the guitar work is easily the best thing about the album, and right up there with First Fragment‘s Dasein in having some of the best tech death moments of the year.
The album starts off strongly, with “Earthwork” and “Ad Rigorem” riffing ahead at the level of established bands such as Rivers of Nihil and Beyond Creation, but effortlessly enhancing that with carefully constructed atmospheric leads and climaxes. While the midsection of Illuminance is no less fantastic, Virvum save most of the progressive elements for the last two tracks, which together form a dynamic 12-minute epic almost worthy of Ne Obliviscaris in its scope (sans violin, of course). Even clean vocals make an appearance in between, but they work perfectly in the context of the music, making for a space-y Cynic-like effect. Although shorter tracks like “Tentacles of the Sun” are not necessarily that much less dynamic, Virvum clearly excel at long-form, progressive tech death, and the final tracks (alongside the 9-minute title track) are easily the best songs on offer here.
Overall, the songwriting is stellar — perhaps more could have been done with the bass, given that this is a tech death album in the end, but Traced in Air wasn’t exactly ripping at the seams with bass solos either. Ultimately, Virvum have made a very strong first step into the tech death scene with the ambitious and tight-knit Illuminance, effortlessly covering ample sonic ground without losing sight of their musical strengths. One can only imagine what heights they’ll reach next.
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Virvum – Illuminance gets…