As explained yesterday, I decided to plow through my self-imposed end-of-January deadline for finishing this list because it became apparent to me that I had overlooked a number of tracks that really needed to be included. Worse than that, I had really given short-shrift to a few entire genres of extreme metal. Since one of my objectives for the list has been to give a snapshot of what the preceding year brought us across a range of genres, that deficiency needed to be remedied, at least to some extent.
Technical death metal is one of the genres that hasn’t really gotten the exposure it deserves in the list as it exists so far. Today’s installment is an effort to at least partially make up for that, and I’ve also included a technically adept band whose music is often classified as melodic black/death.
FIRST FRAGMENT (Canada)
“Let’s face it, 2021 has been a ridiculous year for the Tech Death scene.” That’s how Andy Synn began his review of First Fragment’s Gloire Éternelle, and who could argue with that? But it’s also fair to say that despite the intensity of the competition First Fragment still stood out.
As Andy observed in his review, the musicianship on display in Gloire Éternelle was outstanding, and often jaw-dropping, but the band also threaded their songs with melodic hooks that enhanced their appeal beyond the sheer spectacle of the top-shelf performances, and they indulged their neoclassical interests in ways that proved to be remarkably absorbing.
The album also impressed our tech-death maven DGR, who put it at the lucky 13 spot on his year-end iist. In doing so he wrote: “Gloire Éternelle is a roller-coaster ride of an album and I found myself loving nearly every second of it”.
The song I’ve chosen for this list is “La Veuve & Le Martyr“. The opening guitar and bass instrumentals are sprightly and sublime, and then things get kind of funky. But make sure you hold onto your head because the band will eventually start spinning it like a top with all the ebullient, high-speed string-slinging, jet-fueled percussion, and delicious bass and dual-guitar soloing. It’s a wild and wondrous genre-crossing thing whose adventurousness leaves most tech-death in the dust, and Dominic Lapointe‘s role in the song’s frenetic finale is simply not to be missed.
OPHIDIAN I (Iceland)
Ophidian I‘s latest album Desolate also mustered a lot of enthusiastic support here at NCS. Our old friend Prof. D. Grover the XIIIth put it in a three-way tie for the third spot on his year-end list (along with First Fragment and Archspire), writing:
Ophidian I was early the biggest surprise of the three, mostly because their previous review Solvet Saeclum (released nine years ago) was solid but unspectacular. Desolate, on the other hand, features some of the most incredible guitar leads of any album I’ve heard this year, and they are so densely packed that it’s a true testament to the band’s writing talents that the album is so memorable. That’s in spite of the fact that this album is incredibly fast, rivaling Archspire in terms of pure speed.
Andy named it one of the year’s Great Albums and also put it on his Critical Top 10 list. He wrote in his review: “[S]heer, superluminal speed isn’t the only thing this album has going for it – it wouldn’t be anywhere near as impactful or memorable, for example, without the band’s obvious gift for writing shamelessly shred-tastic melodies – but your first impression of Desolate is still most likely to be ‘fuck me, that’s fast!’”
Nathan Ferreira put it at No. 15 on his YE list, writing: “Even in a year where multiple tech-death bands came out with incredible, bar-raising material, Ophidian I still made tons of people exclaim ‘how the hell do they even do that???’”.
I fielded a number of suggestions for songs from the album that were worthy of this list. After hurling myself through them again, I was flummoxed about how to choose, and ultimately just gave way to a sudden impulsive conviction that “Diamonds” was just marginally more infectious than the others. It dances and destroys, will jolt you silly and spin your head all the way around, and the guitar leads and soloing are spectacularly ebullient. Plus, that darting guitar motif that launches the song and reappears later really is very catchy. Plus plus, it comes with a video….
HANNES GROSSMANNN (Germany)
At our site DGR enthusiastically waved the flag for Hannes Grossmann‘s latest solo album To Where the Light Retreats. In his typically deep-dive review he lauded the new album as “a surprisingly sleek, thrashier, and more feral release than what has previously landed in his collective works”:
A large part of that feeling of being sleeker is due to the fact that, this time around, To Where The Light Retreats sticks with a familiar core cast of characters, using both V. Santura and Morean for vocal and guitar work/solos and bringing out long-time cohort Christian Münzner (another Alkaloid stalwart) for a guest appearance as well. Other than that, it sticks pretty close to the core Alkaloid crew mentioned above [including guitarist Danny Tunker and bassist Linus Klausenitzer] for eight songs that all feel different from one another.
Because of those differences, DGR wrote:
It’s the sort of album that lends itself to differences among listeners in their choice of a favorite track, since there’s basically eight different approaches present here, and really it comes down to what you’re looking for. It’s how you wind up with situations like To Where The Light Retreats delivering a show-stopper with its second song. One of the more difficult obstacles in the album is just making it past how goddamned catchy that lead guitar part is during the main chorus of “The Sun Eaters”, and just how quickly that song burrows its way into your skull.
Yeah, that song burrowed its way into my head too. I was reminded of just how deep “The Sun Eaters” goes when I checked it out again in trying to finish up this list. I kick myself for overlooking it earlier, but now it’s finally here.
Last but certainly not least, we come to the band I mentioned at the outset who’s usually branded “melodic black death” but who feature a lot of technically impressive execution as well. A year ago their then-four-album discography was the subject of The Synn Report, in which Andy recommended them for fans of Naglfar, Necrophobic, and Obscura, and then a couple of months later he added a review of their then-forthcoming fifth album, Impermanence.
Andy observed that this newest album “marks something of a turning point for the Geneva-based quintet, now signed to The Artisan Era, as they pivot even further towards a sound even more distinctly informed by the Melodic and Technical shades of the Death Metal spectrum…. [T]hose intriguing Obscura/Beyond Creation/Gorod-esque elements which were already so prominent on 2018’s Emptiness Fills the Void are even more pronounced on Impermanence“.
He added: “In fact I’d probably go so far as to say that this is the most energised and agile the band have ever sounded…. [A]n album this vital, this vibrant, and this thrillingly visceral, only occurs when a band truly love, and truly believe in, what they’re doing”.
Other NCS writers and friends obviously concurred, because the album made a bunch of our year-end lists, including the one by DGR, which included these words: “Another head-spinning hybrid of musical genres, Stortregn traffic in high-speed insanity that is so well-written it seems unfair that they’re just now starting to really grab people’s attention”.
I had the good fortune last January to premiere the first single from Impermanence, a terrific song named “Cosmos Eater”. But I’ve been persuaded that “Multilayered Chaos” is even more infectious.