(DGR resumes an effort he began last month to catch up on reviews before immersing himself in year-end LISTMANIA. Additional installments of this collection will be added throughout what’s left of this week.)
I think I’ve done it. I think I’m finally free. I think I’ve finally managed to — not really — clear my review slate and can actually start working on the ridiculous exercise that is my year-end list extravaganza.
What follows, in this part and a few more to follow it this week, may prove to be my final collection of reviews, but you never know what we’ll stumble upon after this and find ourselves going, “Wait, we really didn’t cover that?”. Hell, there’s a few of those in this one, but there’s also a group of more recent November releases that were pretty much slammed onto my review desk with such force that they’re currently on the floor below and I have to research how to get a new desk… and replace a hole in my floor.
I guess that’s what happens when your tastes are made brutally apparent over the time spent writing for a site.
As before, this assembly has a whole lot of world traveling in it, but it also lets me return to my own home state for quite a few of them as well. So, if you’re looking for one final collective of death metal across all spectrums, or a few musical digs into a group’s history, then this final wrap-up should have you covered.
Sadist – Spellbound
To be completely honest, despite the torrent of heavy metal that has flooded us during the back half of 2018, the fact that a Sadist album snuck up on me is fucking embarrassing. Sadist are one of the bands that I’ve championed around these parts, and in large part it’s due to the fact that their output as a tech-death band has been so diverse and bizarre, so incredibly hard to pin down and angular that sometimes it’s challenging to just go a full discography run with them.
This is a band whose album just prior to this was themed around African mythology. They’re a group whose writing style sometimes feels driven more by a love of all things bizarre, leading to some of the most angular riff-writing around, which means that the drumming behind it is often a roller-coaster of playing which alternates between straight-forward blasting death metal, prog-work, and even free jazz at times, in an attempt to either a) hang on or b) control the song. Then Sadist will stack a layer of keyboards on top of it and let their vocalist shriek and growl over that and call it good.
Such has been the pattern for the group’s recent output, like 2010’s Season In Silence and the aforementioned 2015 release Hyaena, and it’s pretty safe to say that 2018’s Spellbound is no different, and in some ways feels like a return to the keyboard-driven work that was present on Season….
Continuing the group’s trend of being one of the hardest to approach and most unconventional death metal bands out there, Spellbound is a conceptual disc based on the works of Alfred Hitchcock — which translates into the music of Spellbound having a more traditional horror-themed bent that can help explain the return of keyboard elements becoming much more prominent once again.
Other than the album’s overarching concept, a lot of Sadist’s hallmarks are still in place. Vocalist Trevor Nadir still has an incredibly distinctive snarl and puts it to use alongside a hefty low growl across Spellbound; the idea of low-end groove is basically tossed to the curb in favor of a whole lot of that angular guitar riffing — emphasis on a lot — and quick moving gallops; and the bass happily plonks its way around in the background hanging on for dear life to whatever work is happening in between the multitude of cymbal crashes drummer Alessio Spallarossa decides to throw in.
Songs like opener “The Birds” and “Frenzy” — which arrives near the end of the album — are somewhat shocking because they’re both relatively straightforward for Sadist songs, legit rocking headbangers. “The Birds” is defined largely by its keyboard line, which dances throughout the song as it interplays with the smattering of guitar leads that pop up. But on top of that there’s quite a few moments in the song that fully justify getting some windmill action going.
There are just as many opportunities for Sadist to go firmly off the beaten path in the album, as the band try to tie their music into each song’s chosen subject matter (though they avoid the super-obvious for the most part), and in doing so their album tends to bounce back and forth, with some pretty hard swings from the bludgeoningly heavy to drifting atmosphere and the ambience of a movie soundtrack.
Spellbound is based on the collected works of the acclaimed director, and each song feels like its own separate piece this time, with clear starting and stopping points. Sadist take advantage of that aspect often, leading to experiments like “Notorious” lying halfway into the album’s runtime, which is a four-minute instrumental exploration that is fairly calm in the face of the swirling mass of ever-shifting songs before it. Right after it is another highlight into the world of the odd, where not only are the keyboards prominent but they’re also tuned so that they sting like a soundtrack would in the song “Stage Fright” – a song which manages to evoke the sort of frozen panic one might feel if one were suffering from the song’s title; the music tends to dart all over the place while those aforementioned keys stab out of the song like blades.
Sadist’s music, however, can still remain very difficult to approach, and Spellbound isn’t likely to change that perception. Sadist’s music is this weird, mangled tree of progressive, technical, and straightforward death metal that over the past three albums has bucked death metal’s focus on low-end groove. While many bands make their recorded efforts sound absolutely massive, Sadist’s work is very reflective of how many members are in the band. You can tell that there’s four guys here putting in work, and each instrument is incredibly distinct.
Sadist have a bassist and he spends much of Spellbound fully engrossed in a sort of separate explorational odyssey — but it’s more of Sadist’s dynamic that he and the guitarist are constantly playing off of each other with different and angular rhythm lines rather than the band having a fully dedicated low-end segment. Most of Sadist’s melody comes from keyboard work, and their drummer seems to exist on a completely seperate plane.
Thus you have a collective of four incredibly talented individuals creating the sort of music that is like a ball with a massive assortment of random tendrils sticking out of it. Finding appeal in it is much like finding the appeal in the geometric patterns one might start seeing when they stare at a pit full of spikes long enough. Somehow, Sadist have managed to make this work over the course of a long-running career, and the times when it comes fully together on Spellbound are some of the band’s best creations to date.
But Spellbound, like their albums beforehand, requires that you be prepared for all of the odd angles and all of the approaches the band take outside the normal conventions for death metal. It is for sure a challenging listen, but one that grows on you as you find all of the different advenues Sadist travel down throughout each song.
The Odious Construct – Shrine Of The Obscene
Let’s stop briefly into ye olde stomping ground that is Sacramento.
I spent a little bit of my review on Irreversible Mechanism‘s latest album Immersion musing about the fact that the band had shed much of their everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach that had colored much of their debut album Infinite Fields. Well, as one band sheds that approach, another group embraces a style that has become the trademark of groups like Inferi, and actually many of the bands that now call The Artisan Era home — the highly technical, high-speed, death metal that has often found itself mutated and fused with enough core elements that songs will often swing from impressive show-piece exercises that weave their way through the music into a massive chugging breakdown or a downward-focused groove with absolutely no warning, then just as quickly spin the machine right back up like a tornado flinging listeners aside like so much debris.
Such is the case with Sacramento’s The Odious Construct, whose second EP Shrine Of The Obscene sees the band inching past their melo-death/deathcore hybrid into the realm of the hyper-fast “as much as possible” genre. Shrine Of The Obscene represents an adventurous take on The Odious Construct‘s sound and one that has the band giving everything they have in the twenty minutes that Shrine asks of you.
There’s a lot to take in, and the EP’s first song “Vortex Of Self” lays out that blueprint from its very beginning with a strong keyboard swell that spills into the band blasting away on both the drum kit and with their guitars. Played at an ultra-frenetic pace that is pretty common amongst this branch of tech-death, that initial wall of sound gives way to a more conventional and headbanging groove — one that shows that The Odious Construct have developed a knack for pretty severe neck-wrecking rhythms over the span of the group’s debut EP release and its current incarnation.
Immediate followers “Descension” and “They Came Through The Mirrors” are both whirlwind guitar assaults, with “Descension” making full use of a piano track layered on top of the group’s rapid movement in order to add melody throughout the song. They even give it the honor of closing it out during the only time where “Descension” takes a breather, but “They Came Through The Mirrors” quickly wipes that memory off the map because it picks up the pace back to what becomes the standard for much of Shrine Of The Obscene.
The band slowly add more and more different synth lines and experiment with different iterations on their formula throughout the whole EP, each song coming across as a different experiment on top of their chosen quick-chugging death metal, so that by the time you do hit the titular “Shrine Of The Obscene” song you can see why it was the one chosen as representative for the EP, as it is easily a highlight of the five songs presented here. The track has The Odious Construct poking and prodding at their genre, looking for ways to mold it into their own. In this song the band have crafted a fully cinematic and well-realized take on the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style of tech-death, making full use of multiple synth layers on top of a hurricane of rhythmic assault and guitar annihilation.
Of course, the snappy nature of Shrine Of The Obscene means that the EP wraps up before you know it. Twenty minutes goes up like flash-paper in one quick burst of action that rarely takes time to allow itself to concentrate. The first few run-throughs of the EP are a high-speed blur as the band serve up a packed release, even though they consistently try to differentiate each track with a multitude of different keyboard experiments and orchestration, until you learn which melodic line really belongs to which, and then the immediate standouts are the first and last tracks, with a head-spinning thirteen minutes in between consisting of constant light-speed drumming and hyper-kinetic guitar work. “Descension” makes itself known pretty quickly, as it’s the song that has the most prominent keyboard work afterward, but the near-immediate hit of hammering guitar from the EPs first track doesn’t quite wear off yet, and “Shrine Of The Obscene” itself is the obvious star.
Shrine Of The Obscene is, however, one of those releases that can be plenty of fun if you’re willing to just hit play and let it bowl you over. The constant neck-snapping rhythms mean you’ll have plenty to rock out and headbang to while you’re lost in the hurricane of whatever song you may be on at the moment. As only the second EP from the band, though, Shrine Of The Obscene is a massive leap forward in the progression of the band’s sound — demonstrating that throwing caution to the wind and just going for it is an approach that works for them. It’s a dense twenty minutes, but it is a record that can grow on you incredibly quickly so that you look forward to repeatedly launching back into the twenty-minute hurricane and just getting absorbed by all of it.