(NCS scribe DGR continues to catch up on reviews after a long hiatus with a multi-part collection, of which this is the third of three parts.)
There’s something to be said for comfort food in music and there’s something to be said for the weird looks I receive when I say that tech-death has become something of a comfort food. I recognize fully that I will always be somewhat wowed by the musical equivalent of dangling shiny keys in front of me, but my god is that a lot of keys and boy howdy, they sure are shiny.
The tech-death explosion over the years has led to a large amorphous mass that can often lean a little too heavy in both the technical or the -core direction, often making bands seem like expert musicians that just jammed a massive ton of breakdowns in between, making the musical adventurism and haughtiness feel somewhat unearned. 2019 has of course seen a massive number of additions to the genre as groups push and pull at its boundaries to see what else they can do with it or find ways to stick out in an increasingly crowded field.
Some of those releases came from some now pretty-established names. Such was the case with the following three, where my familiarity with the groups’ extended discographies led me to have them on constant play — even when the latter two hit in the first half of the year and we’re now at the point where as writers we’re panicking to try and get as many of the groups as we’ve listened to out there, so we can start focusing on the craziness that is the year-end release schedule. Of course, none of this pile-up was helped by what was previously alluded to as real life rearing up and kicking yours truly right in the head — much as this music has done over the past few months.
Omophagia – 646965
These Swiss tech-death bruisers deal in much the same genre of music as Swedish machines Soreption, in that they write death metal heavily focused on groove with a near mathematical precision. The difference between Omophagia and Soreption is that the latter basically have no time for melody and a very singular focus about their one goal, and Omophagia…well, Omophagia are having a blast with it in the meantime. That means that their style of music is big, lumbering, and frankly dumb as all hell. and they seem to be having a blast with that fact.
They toss in all sorts of pyrotechnic flair atop their rumbling engine of sound, and in doing so their music has a sort of charm to it. So while Omophagia may not be the most blindingly technical or singularly groove-riff heavy band out there, their style of death metal and its sort of “fun while destroying things” appeal makes the band worth listening to. Which brings us to the group’s latest addition to their discography of celebrated chaos in the form of 646965 – and I guarantee you that while you will not see the numerous edits happening in the background, I will proceed to fuck up every single time I type it [editor’s note: true fact] until it is burned into my skull, much in the same way I now have Wolfheart’s Tyhjyys stuck in my brain.
Opening your album with lyrics in binary is a brave maneuver, to say the least. Although they’re certainly not the only group to jam some binary code lyrics into their heavy metal — even in my own collection they’re joined by Ayreon in that regard — the percussive way in which they are delivered in the song “646965” is surprisingly ear-wormy. It has actually resulted in some limited memorization of that sequence of zeroes and ones, which is extra-impressive considering I usually lose at Simon Says right about the time they add a third color into the mix. It also gives 646965 the interesting problem of opening with what is basically a showstopper; there’s so much interesting flair within that one song that it’s difficult to remove one’s focus from it – especially once you reach that heavy sweep of guitar notes and binary segment that the band make into a main section of the song.
This is all discounting the fact that the album has added to my collection of songs named “Intro” that have gathered over the years, moving that number further into the stratosphere.
Much like Dyscarnate’s With All Their Might, where every song had a large grouping of ideas that could’ve easily stood as their own song, Omophagia jam-pack every song with about a dozen different hefty grooves wherein headbanging is almost impossible not to do. They play them all at lightning speed, which means the drums are a constant force behind each song, with the double-bass work especially forcing the band forward while the group’s two guitarists seem to have a blast tearing out massive leads over the top of it.
For as meatheaded and punch-everything as the songwriting philosophy seems to be, the band give themselves plenty of opportunities to fling forward a massive wall of notes or shift into an oddly angular segment with such a sudden change in momentum that it’s hard not to imagine them splattering into a wall with the force of each turn. They do so constantly in songs like ‘Radicalized’, ‘Pride Before Fall’, ‘Narcissus’, and ‘Evolve’. Omophagia also have a blast with just about any word ending in the letter ‘Y’, which makes certain lyrical passages seem like they’re wrapping back around to the title track of the album.
The way 646965 closes out proves to be a highlight, as well using a “Violent delights…violent ends” sample to bookend the song. “Absolute Zero”, is a monster of a track where some of the more imperial-sounding death metal grooves make themselves known. It also provides the weird situation where you get to say that one of your album highlights of is its ending, which is always fun to write out.
646965 is one of the beefier death metal discs out there right now, in terms of just how much Omophagia throw their metaphorical weight around in each song. While it’s not the most crushing, the band do a deft dance between their tech-death and more brutal death tendencies over the course of these thirty-seven or so minutes. As mentioned before, it’s charming in just how much fun the band seem to be having with their machine-like riff style and their ability to go from hefty-groove to blindingly fast lead guitar work at almost the drop of a hat. 646965 maintains a pretty constant clip, but it never seems to wear off, and before you know it, you’ll have looped back around to its intro song again.
Inanimate Existence – Clockwork
Inanimate Existence‘s newest album Clockwork, the group’s second disc for The Artisan Era but the fifth one overall and arriving two years after its predecessor, is slightly less rushed than the gap between Calling From A Dream and Underneath A Melting Sky, and it seems like Inanimate Existence have found themselves with a comfortable songwriting and visual aesthetic for the moment.
The similarities between Underneath A Melting Sky and Clockwork don’t just end with the technicolor art style of the covers. Clockwork picks up from right where Underneath A Melting Sky left off and charts a very similar path — one that sees the band again inwardly gazing for lyrical inspiration and dishing out another forty or so minutes of music that seems best digested as one big whirling tech-death maelstrom, constantly tied together by the group’s love of continually bringing up guitar melodies and refrains that appeared in previous songs, making the whole affair feel like one massive work, especially when every song has a one-word title.
Inanimate Existence‘s career path has been an interesting one, and Clockwork feels like the most natural extension the band could have achieved from where they were on Underneath A Melting Sky. The various approaches that bands have taken to expanding the overall tech-death fundamentals over the years have led to a lot of iterations and differing styles, while a bass-heavy and groove-laden core are often the focal points. Inanimate Existence‘s addition to it has been a relatively understated, introspective, and philosophical approach, straying from the more common (or at least it was at the time of the initial tech-death explosion) “space as allegory for modern destruction” or “space because cosmic stuff sounds awesome” approach.
That is how you wind up with album titles like A Never-Ending Cycle Of Atonement or the lyrical aspect of Clockwork, which proves to be one of the interesting aspects of the disc. It’s as if Inanimate Existence placed a filter on their music, as if tech-death had started dabbling with various hallucinogens but without going at it with quite as much gusto — or as gravel-gargling — as Decrepit Birth have.
“Voyager” and “Desert” show off Inanimate Existence at their most apocalyptic and rhythm-leaning, with “Desert” especially featuring some stunningly low bellows in its opening bits. “Desert” shifts as much as its metaphorical sands do, slowly morphing from the dunes of a multitude of guitar leads and solos into some Cro-Magnon man chugging, as the tempo changes from blindingly fast into a more approachable mid-tempo. That allows Inanimate Existence to close the song with the haunting, echo-heavy guitar that the band have been using over two albums now to tie songs together.
“Voyager” is more flexible in its fretwork, and at five minutes and forty seconds covers a vast ground musically and serves as a counterpoint to the initial onslaught that is Clockwork’s opening song and title track. “Diagnosis”, the other song with a similar run time to “Voyager”, approaches its opening bits as if the rhythm section of the band had lost its mind and just tried to write the most angular stuff imaginable — leaving any melody or lead guitar segment to hang on for dear life. It’s a good break to hear all of the sudden start-and-stop dynamic slowly worm its way back into Clockwork after a few songs that center around pretty headbangable grooves.
“Liberation” is written as an epic song, and as the album closer it sends Clockwork out with one of the bouncier rhythm sections that Inanimate Existence have kicked out in its opening segments. If you really enjoyed “Blood Of The Beggars” thudding approach to tech-death on Underneath A Melting Sky then it is likely “Liberation” will prove to be a late-album highlight for you, as it proves to be that song’s more expansive sibling in its six-and-a-half minutes.
Although Clockwork doesn’t stray too far from its immediate predecessor, it does do a lot as a sort of understated tech-death disc. Everything flows naturally from one track to the next, and although there is still enough guitar-noodling present to stun listeners, it rarely appears suddenly or like some sort of machine just whipped a massive wall of notes at you from nowhere. In fact, the one time where it is somewhat egregious is during “Voyager” where some of the guitar leads seem to spin up like a machine, you can almost hear them forming in the background of some of that songs heavier grooves. Clockwork is one of those albums that is difficult to describe in snapshot form simply because every song seems to either flow into, is woven into, or ties back into some sort of motif that appeared earlier on in the album. Each of the eight songs goes on a lengthy journey and by the end of its forty minutes, Inanimate Existence have laid a lot of material out in front of the listener, making the rediscovery process on subsequent trips that much more interesting.
Vale Of Pnath – Accursed EP
Over the past few years Colorado hyperspeed tech-death group Vale Of Pnath have developed one of the more fluid lineups out there, with a constantly shifting membership surrounding one main core. Much as a river flows around a stone in the center of it, so too do band members in Vale Of Pnath seem to flow in and out of the lineup. This meant that for a brief period it was hard to tell who was actually in the group outside of guitarist Vance Valenzuela.
And so what made the lead-up to the group’s May 2019 EP Accursed (via Willowtip Records) interesting was that, for the most part, it seemed like the crew that comprised the band that recorded 2016’s II would be returning, and after three years had managed to hammer out (with the help of some guest work for orchestration) a pretty thick twenty-seven minutes’ worth of new music. Considering that II as a full-length is only eleven minutes longer, you could understand where the line might blur a bit, but where it doesn’t is the continuation of the band’s frenetic and fast songwriting proclivities.
Vale Of Pnath have become something of a fixed point in terms of how the tech-death scene might be shaping up in any particular moment. They are fairly masterful at pinpointing where in any particular time the genre might be heading, so in some ways, Accursed is a fantastic snapshot of the current high-speed “heavy metal as extreme sports” branch of death metal which labels like the previously mentioned The Artisan Era have begun to specialize in.
Accursed — as best as it can be — is written to be one massive suite of music. When it comes to this style of densely packed tech-death it always seems like no matter how much material is actually present it will invariably feel like a ton. Accursed is no different, and since it is mostly meant to be taken in as one work, many of the songs don’t have very clear starting and stopping points. One will end and another will suddenly begin; it isn’t until halfway through Accursed, at the ending of “Skin Turned Soil”, that there is a moment of respite with some quiet orchestration closing the song out.
For the most part — especially on the title song — Accursed maintains a pretty high clip and rarely lets up as it tears through a variety of blast-beat driven guitar riffs and angular segments that allow the bass to get far more pop throughout the EP than one might expect from a style so heavily driven by guitar. Vocalist Reece Deeter delivers a pretty hefty snarl throughout, which helps keep Accursed level as the band absolutely blast through a variety of material and make twenty-seven minutes still feel overwhelming by closing time (and that includes its ambient intro and outro segments). The titular “Accursed” song especially does this; it feels like the summation of everything before it and everything to come, the linchpin of the much wider suite of the EP as a whole.
Accursed is not only a snapshot of where Vale Of Pnath are at the moment but also a real strong pulse of life. The band pack a lot into Accursed and yet somehow make it seem as sleek as they’ve always been. There’s a lot of ambitious songwriting here, with some tracks stretching into the six-minute range and jammed with not just a waterfall of different guitar leads and solos but also the varying degrees of orchestration the band use to tie Accursed together. It’s a blindingly fast rush, and one that finds Vale Of Pnath still aiming to stretch and push on the boundaries of their defined style while retaining much of their trademark speed.