It’s fitting that my first review of 2020 should be for a spicy technical death metal rebirth. I’m of course referring here to the resurgence of death metal legends Odious Mortem, who return to we the needy many after an 11-year hiatus with their third full-length effort Synesthesia. Comebacks are a tricky thing to navigate for bands in niche musical spaces, especially when the evolution of that band’s chosen subgenre has evolved so considerably since their last release. Odious Mortem’s style of aggressive, straightforward brutality-tinged tech death most certainly falls into this camp, so how does the band approach their songwriting style in the midst of the wankery-Heavy maelstrom that is the modern tech death scene? The answer is simply and effectively.
There are few frills to Synesthesia, which depending on your preferences in tech death is either a profound blessing or damning curse. For this listener, I find the bands continuance of their already established and well-respected style refreshing and effective. Opener “Dormant Retribution” kicks off seemingly right where the band’s previous release left off. With a somewhat lo-fi production aesthetic adding welcome atmosphere to the blistering instrumental onslaught digging up graves beneath it, it’s a track that shows listeners that the band have lost absolutely none of their instrumental proficiency. This is classic Odious Mortem through and through, and if that’s what you came to Synesthesia for, all of your hopes and wishes will be answered with resounding affirmation over the remainder of the record. Fans of the Decrepit Birth strain of death metal, rejoice!
While Synesthesia certainly peddles a familiar (and welcome) sound, I would be remiss to exclude some of the bands more technically adventurous sounds in my analysis. “Replenish the Earth” and “Cave Dweller” in particular remind me of the speed/bludgeon mix of Spawn of Possession or Necrophagist, mixing their lo-fi Visceral Bleeding vibes with a technical mastery that elevates the music beyond its most obvious influences. The riffs here blend direct instrumental brutality with some math-adjacent passages that keep the band’s intense string-based attack from getting stale. It’s a mixture of tones and sounds that is nothing short of headbang-worthy when it hits right, and there are far more hits on Synesthesia than misses.
The above in mind, one of the only major critiques I can level on this record is its adherence to Odious Mortem’s established style. In my estimation, listener mileage may vary depending on whether you are a devoted fan of the band’s previous two releases. If you find yourself in that camp, Synesthesia is a more than worthy addition to both the band’s back catalog and your personal collection. If you’re looking for something off-the-wall compared to the band’s previous material, this record will most likely disappoint. While technically masterful and expertly performed, there’s little new here. But for this Odious Mortem fan, that’s just fine by me. Too often do we find legendary acts attempting to completely scrap their previous work (*cough* Morbid Angel *cough*) to try something ill-advised. If the biggest complaint I can lodge against a record is that it sounds a lot like the band’s previous and amazing records, I think we’ve got a winner on our hands.
Overall, Synesthesia is a welcome return for one of tech death’s most notable voices, and a worthy addition to tech death collections of all shapes and sizes. It’s masterfully performed, deliberately composed, and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. It’s very good to have these masters of the form back in action, and I cannot wait to see where they take us next. Until then, we’ve got one helluva record to keep us company.
Synesthesia drops Jan. 17 via Willowtip Records.