(We’ve been following (and reporting) the news about Allegaeon’s new album very closely, and now we have TheMadIsraeli’s review of Formshifter.)
Melodic death metal has not really flourished in the U.S despite its popularity (which led to the metalcore movement) and ultimately hasn’t seen much action within its territories. By my lights, only two melodic death metal bands have started in America who have ever been worth a shit — The Absence and Allegaeon.
The Absence have always been decidedly about blatant old-school worship (really fucking good worship) of past heroes, while Allegaeon sought to combine Swedish majesty with American grit, netting them a killer debut EP and an even more musically accomplished album debut, Fragments of Form and Function, which had titanic grooves, ferocious serpentine riffs, and epic melodies all about. An debut as staggeringly strong as that puts a lot of pressure on a band to succeed the next time around.
Though it’s a cliche to say so, the sophomore release really is the most dreaded album of a band’s career. It is where a band either cement their status as a legitimate musical force or torch their progress to date, then and there. Fortunately for Allegaeon and their fans, Formshifter is a bewilderingly powerful album that is an essential of the year.
A couple things are different this time around. The band have switched to 8-string guitars, which often results not only in riffing that’s extremely technical and varied, but also in some of Allegaeon’s most brutal, fat, and consuming moments when the time arrives to throw down in a song. This particular change has been really positive — with the switch to 8 strings, Allegaeon have written riffs that have quite a bit more majesty, pomp, and circumstance than ANYTHING they wrote on Fragments of Form and Function.
The songs are even better composed and more dynamic. On this album you’ll find more hills and valleys as compared to the previous album, which mainly just blistered at full speed, obliterating the listener. Nothing wrong with the way the debut did things, but Formshifter is definitely a more refined and sophisticated attack.
The second difference, as the band themselves have stated when asked, is that Formshifter is definitely a more groove-based album, though not as much as one might believe, depending on what you read. Don’t think you won’t find plenty of moments that will blaze a trail of fire across your soul, because those are here in spades and more potent than ever. But for the sake of dynamics, Allegaeon spare the speedy moments for times of emphasis, and trust me, when they come, they will send you into convulsive fits of neck-snapping antics.
“Behold (God I Am)” is a beastly opener: a clean intro with a grand sense of drama, a blistering post-intro riff that melts faces, and a following jack-hammer, rapid-fire attack of EMP charges and Gatling-gun fire. The riffs have a slithering quality, combined with a badass Middle Eastern melodic basis. Near the end, the song hits with an anthem-like march that I can see provoking venue-wide shout-along’s.
The next song, “Tartessos – The Hidden Xenochrist”, exhibits the more groove-oriented direction pretty well. The song doesn’t really bother with speed, but the killer riffs combined with that badass alien sweep melody during the verse and the song’s solo’s make it a hypnotizing affair.
“A Path Disclosed” opens with a cool harmonized riff played with a clean tone and then bursts into more of a traditional melodic death metal attack (one of the few speed-oriented songs on the album). The song’s bombastic chorus is awesome, with a strong waltz feel that may spawn images in your mind of a ballroom covered in fire.
“Twelve” is where the game changes on this album. The first three songs are great, but the improved composition and notched-to-11 epic factor become present starting here. The main riff opens with big, swelling octaves and droning thooms from the 8-string guitars, with the drums launching a bombardment of machine-gun blast-beat fire. The riffs are groovy, dark, and technical, with the right amount of balls to them. The song is a hard-hitter, but the feature that truly makes it is the almost three-minute classical guitar outro, courtesy of lead-guitar wizard Greg Burgess. It sounds like a tune straight out of a spaghetti western, which kicks fucking ass.
“Iconic Images” is a waltzing steamroller, calling to mind the heaviest of Nevermore’s output. The riffs have a distinct Jeff Loomis color, full of low-tuned noodling wizardry and the sounds of a giant, coiling serpent preparing to strike. It’s a titanic bruiser, full of perplexingly intricate drums accompanied by blistering double-bass assaults. The solo’s in this song, including a badass dual-guitar solo that features astounding counterpoint, also rule.
“The Azrael Trigger” is a blazingly fast number that partially drops the melodic death metal for something more akin to the sound of Bay Area thrash. The melodic character of the riffs is strongly reminiscent of early Exodus and Testament. The chorus is melodic in a melo-deathy way, I suppose, a catchy dark melody that sticks in your ear. I particularly dig the sharpness of the riffs in this song. A later song, “Timeline Dissonance”, which is also good, revisits this Bay Area thrash style.
“From The Stars Death Came” is the most traditionally melodeath song on the album, sounding like something that would’ve been on a 2.0 version of their debut album. Catchy, intelligent, harmonized riffing and big guitar layers are the name of the game here, with a huge emphasis on ear-pleasing dual-guitar antics.
The final two songs are the best on this album by far. The title track “Formshifter” is definitely my favorite. Its epic intro hooks you, and the song then proceeds to deliver shredding cuts with riffing of a spidery sort. A razor-sharp dance of death overcomes you, that is, until the song’s bridge hits — delivering a meteor-sized groove to the landscape with a bit of a djenty feel that gives me the Jens Kidman face and compresses all surrounding matter. The second solo erupts, leading right into an epic breakdown, which later closes out the song. Seriously, it’s fucking brutal.
More classical guitar begins the closer “Secrets of the Sequence”, an unforgettable opening that latches onto your brain. The song is mostly centered on catchy melodic riffs, with a great chorus that’s adrenaline pumping. The highlight of this song for sure, though, occurs when the bass gets a bit of solo action as it reprises the song’s intro by itself. The ensuing dual-guitar solo is enrapturing, solidifying the case that Greg Burgess and Ryan Glisan are a guitar duo to watch.
The mix on this album is, in a word, meaty. Nothing feels essentially compromised, but listening to this album is like being subjected to an assault with boulders. The guitars sound massive, and the drums have a cold, thick, industrial tint to them.
The individual performances are all stellar. The session drummer on this album obviously gelled with the band, as what he plays here perfectly complements the music. Ezra Hayes does his traditional melodic death metal growl well, and the guitar/bass combo of Greg Burgess, Ryan Glisan, and Corey Archuleta is superb. I don’t know of many guitar/bass sections of an American metal band composed of people who play off each other THIS WELL.
The lyrics are pretty established Allegaeon fare, a discussion of lots of science and philosophy that gives you something interesting to read besides a good listening experience, and the weird fantasy/sci-fi blend of the artwork will also be stylistically familiar to Allegaeon fans.
Highly recommended. Pick it up.
(Formshifter is out now on the Metal Blade label, and Allegaeon can be found on Facebook via this link.)