(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:
I gotta say, I’ve been slowly but surly drifting away from this type of tech death in recent years. Unless its on the brutal or dissonant end of the spectrum I tend to avoid tech death nowadays. The plethora of unrelieved Unique Leadery Decrepit Birth and Faceless clones do nothing for me.
But this. This is the exception to the rule. These guys are seriously stellar! I can confidently say this is the first tech death album that has actually caught and held my attention in a while!
To me the success or failure of a tech death bands depends on their ability to create truly memorable hooks and riffs and write songs that have a beginning, a middle (or couple of middles) and an end. These guys are nailing it. I’d love to hear a little more of the low end, especially in the heavier parts, but otherwise this sounds very good.
I listened to this a couple times last night while working late, while “Illuminance” and “Ad Rigorem” have been on heavy rotation since I got them with the pre-order. So far, I’m liking it a lot, a shreddier version of Enshine if you will, or perhaps a death metal inclined Dream Theater.
There’s certainly a fair amount of technicality here, but the blast beats, tremolo picking and growls help keep the fret melting leads and bass noodling in line. Still, I find that Virvum are still capable of meandering as much as some of the usual suspects of progressive metal are sometimes known for. “Illuminance” and “A Final Warming Shine: Ascension and Trespassing” are the clear highlights here for me, but I can’t help but feel that the latter could have two different songs instead. With a 40 minute run time that includes three shorter tracks that I thought Virvum could have done more with, I wanted the album to be longer. This breed of metal can benefit from a longer album and has the kinds of fans that can appreciate and enjoy it. While not blown away by every song, that’s the only really issue I have with Illuminance – I wanted more of it.
I’m glad I stumbled across this one – especially before it came out – and I look forward to getting my copy of the CD in the mail and hope that they get to make many more albums in the future. Between this album and Thy Catafalque’s Meta, I don’t think I’m going to be listening to much else for another week or two.
That’s not a bad thing.
Dude, welcome back!!! I now realize that you left a comment back in July that I overlooked, and before that it was March 2015! Hope all is well.
Well, I am still alive, if that counts.
I’ve been meaning to comment more often and do have some stuff I typed up for NCS, but I don’t remember if I got any of that sent your way or not. I need to take more time for myself, but there’s so much to take care of and working multiple shifts for shit pay seven days a week has taken quite a toll on me. At least I was able to get away for a couple days to attend a friend’s wedding back in July, but it was hardly anything resembling a vacation.
There’s so much I’ve missed out on over the past few years – music, games, movies, TV and more. Games are more likely to get my attention, but thankfully I’ve been able to pick up some new music along the way, even if it’s only a few albums. At least I have my iPod (or my phone if the battery is dead) to help keep me going while at work, while the backlog of everything else keeps getting bigger.
Some day, I may have more time to do stuff I actually want to (or not do anything), but I am not too optimistic about that happening in the near future.