Most instrumental intro tracks on metal albums are forgettable. They may mean something to the bands, providing some link to a concept behind the album or a reflection of what inspired the music, but to listeners they often sound like nothing but filler, something to skip past to find the meat of the matter. But the instrumental first track on the debut album by an Iranian band named Azooma makes an impression. It’s the first sign, but certainly not the last one, that A Hymn of the Vicious Monster is something special.
And by special, I mean hands-down the best technical death metal album I’ve heard so far this year.
That first track features an acoustic and electric guitar duet that will quickly tell you there are some talented instrumental performers in this group. But, really, you will still have no idea how remarkably accomplished everyone in this band is until the first full track explodes. And from then until the brief closing track, Azooma set off a non-stop musical fireworks display.
This is the kind of technical death metal that is as much progressive metal as it is “tech death”, incorporating not only extravagant instrumental forays but also exotic melodies and beautifully timed interludes that interweave elements of jazz fusion and even Latin rhythms. As a result, Azooma are more in the camp of bands such as Gorod and Gorguts (with a bit of Dysrythmia in the mix) than the kind of alien ant swarm that a band like Spawn of Possession serves up.
The technical proficiency of all the instrumental performers — guitarist Ahmad Tokallou, bassist Farid Shariat, and drummer Saeed Shariat — is undeniable, and the album is produced and mixed in a way that immaculately allows each of them to shine in equal measure despite the music’s generally blistering pace.
Farid Shariat’s remarkably inventive and elastic bass performances (with a warm, fretless tone) are never out of range, and his skills both as a composer and as a performer give stars like Benoir Claus and Colin Marston a run for their money. And his brother Saeed Shariat’s drumwork is a near-perfect match in the rhythm section; rather than deliver a non-stop blizzard of machine-gun bursts and uber-acrobatic fills, he provides a controlled performance, the quality of which rests instead on variety and carefully created percussive patterns that always seem to suit the moods and movements of the music.
If those two brothers weren’t so good, guitarist Ahmad Tokallou would overwhelm them, because he’s really something else. There are some brutally destructive riffs in these songs and enough pile-driving grooves that you’ll never forget this is death metal, but in addition to crafting some serious riff monsters, Tokallou is a remarkably imaginative progressive instrumentalist and a head-spinning soloist.
Vocalist Shahin Vaqfipour keeps the aggression quotient in the music dialed high with his bestial roars and howls, but he also delivers his own surprises, with a couple of capable digressions into clean song (on “Eridanus Supervoid” and “Gyrocompass”) that beautifully complement the instrumental diversions they accompany.
A Hymn of the Vicious Monster is virtuously complex, exuberantly sending the listener’s mind spinning off into space on one eye-popping trip after another, and yet just when you think gravity will lose its hold altogether, the band pull you back onto something resembling solid earth — which is to say that the songs have structure and an organized flow that becomes apparent even on the first listen.
In a nutshell, this album is a huge surprise, an impressively mature and sophisticated work created by a group of top-shelf musicians. If they were located in a place more visible in the metal world than Iran, I would bet serious money their name would spread like wildfire among devotees of progressive and technical death metal. I certainly hope it will anyway, because this band deserve a wide audience.
A Hymn Of The Vicious Monster will be released on CD and digitally by Xtreem Music on June 15. It was mixed and mastered by Iranian producer Ehsan Imani in Mixter Blaze Studio. The eye-catching artwork was created by Shahryar Shervin. You can stream it below.
UPDATE — It’s now on Bandcamp.