There are a few things I’m excited to accomplish with this post, beyond highlighting yet another couple of excellent death metal releases. First, from a practical standpoint, this is an efficient means of covering two short EPs that are still absolutely worth your time. It’s the same reason I created the “Cassette Catacombs” section in our monthly Death’s Door roundups; though it’s difficult to write full-length reviews about shorter releases, there are simply too many excellent demoes and EPs coming out of death metal these days to ignore them all.
From a more substantive standpoint, the proximity of the release dates for these EPs and their roots in tech death are about the only things they have in common. I riffed on the diversity of modern death metal in our February installment of Death’s Door. The genre’s evolution has been incredible to watch, from a sinister offshoot of thrash into a style that can encapsulate the diametric approaches to tech death that Sutrah and Svengahli explore. Both band’s new EPs are excellent, and hopefully these rapidfire reviews will put them on your radar if they aren’t already.
Sutrah – Aletheia
From the moment we first heard Dunes, the album locked in a spot among our favorite death metal albums of 2017. Sutrah exhibited a level of tech death excellence with their debut that launched them into the same stratosphere as more seasoned genre veterans. The band layer influences from Eastern spiritual traditions and heavy doses of melody, elements they infused into their sound seamlessly.
Though I was originally disappointed that the band’s 3-year absence wasn’t broken by a new full-length, Aletheia is a triumphant return that accomplishes more in its half-hour runtime than several death metal albums I’ve heard so far this year. Sutrah have doubled down on everything that makes their brand of tech death great, producing an arresting 4-part suite and one of the finest releases from the modern strain “atmospheric” death metal bands.
That label is typically ascribed to the likes of Fallujah, who have been maligned for their musical polish. Much like Dunes, the tech death Sutrah craft for Aletheia feels far more organic, fluid, and impactful. Even the EP’s most direct track, 5-minute scorcher “Lethe,” is a complex foray into the heart of this melodic-strain of tech death. For sure, all of the baseline metrics of the genre are present: blistering technicality, commanding growls, dynamic percussion. But the evolution of the track and subtle accents throughout offer more emotional depth than your average tech death release, something only expanded upon as the EP develops.
Beginning with “Dwell,” Aletheia sees Sutrah elevating themselves to the highest point of their careers. “Dwell” bolsters the soundscape approach taken on intro “Umwelt,” dropping percussion for blissful patches of stirring melody. The two instrumental tracks could very well be the hypothetical result of William Basinski writing a melodic metal album. From there, 16-minute finale “Genèse” leverages the preceding elements to create a death metal epic for the ages. The track remains enthralling throughout thanks to perfectly sequenced changes in tempo and mood, ranging from evocative dueling guitar melodies to some of the most varied, complex tech death you’ll encounter this year.
Looking back, this hardly amounted to a quick, rapidfire review, which is a testament to the compelling nature of Sutrah’s compositions. Aletheia will certainly rank among my favorite death metal releases of the year, regardless of format, and I simply can’t recommend it highly enough. A must-listen for tech death fans.
Svengahli – Nightmares of Our Design
Potential can be a curse in disguise for a band, depending on the heights of listeners’ expectations. We’ve all encountered releases that seemed all but guaranteed to succeed yet ultimately fail, sometimes miserably. Svengahli are the type of band in this scenario who avoid this pitfall and instead soar over an impressively high bar.
Any project with guest solos (and by extension, endorsements) from names like Rafael Trujillo (Obscura) and Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, Vaura) will naturally attract significant attention. Specific to the music, I was immediately intrigued when I saw Nightmares of Our Design described as a blending of “jazz, contemporary classical and improvised music into heavier and darker forms of metal,” spearheaded by vocalist and bassist Alex Weber (Exist, ex-Jeff Loomis).
There was plenty to look forward to, and Weber and his collaborators more than deliver with an excellent, experimental concoction of prog metal and tech death. Weber’s growls and unique clean vocals help steer the tracks through complex webs of groove-oriented death bursting at the seems with creativity. You’ll hear a great deal of classic, jazzy tech death in the vein of Atheist meshing with the prog stylings of Cynic, delivered via the mid-paced assaults of Gojira.
Weber’s unique personality shines through via frequent yet logical shifts in musical moods. Opener “Writing on the Wall” is a wild journey featuring dissonant, dense riffing galore shapeshifting alongside proggy melodies and avant-garde explorations. All of its nine minutes are are filled to the brim with ideas from across the tech death spectrum while still coalescing to form a cohesive track.
The following “Nightmares of Our Own Design” suite segments Weber’s songwriting a bit, though each installment is no less interesting. “I: Echoes of Prejudice” sees an ominous, Kayo Dot-esque ballad erupt into a chaotic eruption of dissonant guitar work and driving, double kick-driven drumming. Hufnagel’s characteristically bizarre soloing on “II: Adrift” leads into an almost operatic finale on “III: Our Hate Ignited,” accented by sharp, noisy guitar chords and disorienting changes in percussive tempo and volume.
Weber overdelivers on his debut EP’s sterling potential If this is any indication what Svengahli’s debut full-length will sound like, then we’ll be dealing with a whole new level of anticipation for what Weber and Co. have brewing behind the scenes. Nightmares of Our Design is an apt name for an incredibly creative and sonically dense EP that is well worth the time needed to fully digest.
Aletheia is available March 13 via The Artisan Era. Nightmares of Our Design is available now via Svengahli’s Bandcamp.