(Andy Synn reviews the new album by the Swiss band Virvum.)
There’s been a lot of great Tech Death albums released in the last couple of years (and a lot of widdly, weedly, directionless dross too), so much so that it’s become far too easy to accidentally overlook or underplay something that later turns out to be a real gem in the constant rush of the new and the intoxicating pleasure of discovery.
As a matter of fact, I frequently find myself (re)discovering artists and releases whom I remember initially appreciating but ultimately never quite had the time or the impetus to really dig into the way I should.
Simply put, there’s just not enough time in the day/week/month/year to give everything the attention it deserves, and some things are always going to slip through the cracks.
And that’s not what I want to happen to Virvum, because their debut album Illuminance is one damn fine slab of scintillating progressive extremity.
Oh, it’s not the most innovative entry into the field of Tech Death I’ve ever heard by any means (the influences of Decrepit Birth and Planetary Duality-era The Faceless in particular are very much loud and proud, for example), but its execution is utterly impeccable, its energy unstoppable, and the band’s instrumental eloquence absolutely second to none, with every song, every riff, every fluid, fret-dancing solo, designed to tell an intriguing story of its own.
There’s no question, of course, that the band – comprised of Bryan Berger, Nic Gruhn, Toby Koelman, and Diego Morenzoni, with bass provided by the inimitable Arran McSporran of De Profundis (who’s also filled in for Beyond Grace before now) – are all incredible musicians, and that the sheer quality of their singularly impressive instrumental abilities can’t be overstated. But, above and beyond their obvious technical talents, the quintet also demonstrate a keen grasp of the importance of hooks, dynamics, and overarching atmosphere, that never feels forced or self-indulgent (unlike some other forthcoming releases I could name).
In fact, it’s this combination of dynamic energy and prominent atmospheric undercurrents that serves to give the album its strikingly proggy edge – look no further than the absolutely magnificent title-track for evidence – and which helps set the band ever so slightly apart from their peers (even if they haven’t quite slipped out fully from under the shadow of their influences just yet).
For all the group’s progressive sensibilities and atmospheric ambitions, however, they never allow themselves to get totally lost up their own abstract orifice, matching every magnificent melody or precocious passage of prog-tinged complexity with a plethora of scorching, hook-laden riffs and scattergun blastbeats, with extensive and awkwardly-titled finale “II: A Final Warming Shine: Ascension and Trespassing” in particular containing some of the album’s most melodic touches and some of its heaviest moments, all within the space of the same song.
With other spectucular highlights such as the elegantly savage “Ad Rigorem” and the palpitating thrill-ride of “Tentacles of the Sun” — which packs in more killer riffs, dynamic shifts, and mercurial solos (including a rippling, scintillating display by McSporran on the bass) than should really be possible – under its belt, I can say with some confidence that Illuminance is dead-set on being one of this year’s most striking and vital releases, Tech Death or otherwise.
Illuminance features cover art by Sam Nelson and it was released today and is available on Bandcamp: