Exactly what constitutes the precise definition of “Technical” Death Metal is a controversial topic at the best of times.
After all, doesn’t Death Metal – above a certain number of bpm, at least – actively require a certain amount of technical talent to properly pull it off?
And where exactly does one draw the line? After all, no-one would go around referring to Cannibal Corpse as “Technical Death Metal”, obviously, but many of their riffs (and particularly their bass-lines) are pretty finger-flensing, while Dying Fetus (to pick another “big name” out of the hat) are pretty famous for their face-melting fretwork but are arguably just as well-known for their willing embrace of bone-headed brutality.
Perhaps it’s just an age thing – maybe some of today’s “Technical Death Metal” bands wouldn’t have been referred to as such “back in the day” – or maybe there’s more to it than that.
Whatever the answer is… I don’t have it for you here. But I do recommend you check out all three of the artists/albums featured in today’s article, whether you’re a fan of “Technical” Death Metal or not.
RASTER DENSITY – APOTHECARY’S TOME OV DEPRAVITY AND FILTH
Last time I wrote about Finland’s Raster Density, way back in the misty days of yore (aka, September 2017) I compared their second album, Mother ov Mankind, to both early Rivers of Nihil and Gorod.
But it quickly becomes apparent, thanks to the killer opening combo of “Excremental Bliss” and its equally aggressive (and subtly more progressive) companion, “Death Measured in Milligrams”, that today’s version of Raster Density is an altogether heavier and more extreme entity, with a sound that sits somewhere between the machine-milled, precision-guided punishment of Soreption and the edge-of-your-seat intensity of Ob(Servant)-era Psycroptic.
That being said, while the primary purpose of the album seems to be an attempt to induce auditory whiplash with a mix of jagged, bone-jarring rhythms (“End of the Bridge”) and vicious, neck-breaking velocity (“Of Ego and Exitus”) that’s not to say that the band don’t also make space for the occasional bit of nuance, of course
Case in point, certain tracks (such as “Pill For Every Problem” and and darkly dynamic closer “Can’t Get Higher Than Space”) also feature some hefty Prog-Death riffage not a million miles removed from Allegaeon at their heaviest, while others (like the reckless “Eyewitness (Salt part II)”) somehow find time amidst all the technical tumult for moments of moody melody and introspective atmosphere. Heck, there’s even the occasional dash of almost Gojira-esque groove now and then (“Bear With Me” being a prime example) to keep you on your toes.
Ultimately, then, your best bet here is just to hang on tight and do your best to enjoy/endure the white-knuckle thrill-ride which Raster Density have in store for you.
SUBORBITAL – PLANETARY DISRUPTION
I can honestly say that this is one of the most impressive debuts I’ve heard this year.
German quartet SubOrbital deal in a form of “Technical Death Metal” that puts a focus more on the “Death Metal” than the “Technical” aspect (though it’s obvious that the entire band really know their way around their instruments) – all big, bombastic (and unashamedly hooky) riffs, subtly-complex but song-orientated drumming, and keening, “cosmic” melody.
And while the band wear their primary influences loudly and proudly – paying tribute, in various ways, to the likes of Morbid Angel, Nocturnus, Pestilence, et al – their sound also possesses just enough modern/progressive flair to align them nicely with artists like Anata (“Gyroscope”), Beyond Creation (“Sands of Uranus”), and the oft-imitated (but rarely bettered) Hieronymus Bosch (“Sicknature of Galactic Imperium”).
The guitar-work here is obviously the main draw, of course (these guys really have packed an absolute plethora of killer, not to mention catchy, riffage into each of these eleven tracks) but you also shouldn’t ignore the lithe, limber bass-work either,
What really makes this album work, however, is the concise-yet-dynamic construction of the tracks – all the right parts in all the right places, no extraneous fat or wasted space – which turns what could, in lesser hands, have been a self-indulgent smorgasbord of throwback fret-wankery into a lean, mean, murderous machine of superbly written, ferociously focussed Death Metal.
VORMIR – CELESTIAL CARNAGE
The debut album from these Texas-based technicians is a heady brew of taut, tensile riffage and powerful, unexpectedly organic, drum-work (all topped off with some suitably grisly, growling vocals and a touch of brooding, at times almost “blackened”, melody) that frequently (especially on the record’s two longest tracks, “Celestial Carnage” and “Burial Ground”) errs more towards the “Progressive” side of the Death Metal spectrum.
That’s not to say it doesn’t also bring the heavy – and just one listen to chunky, churning opener “Nailed Shut” – but there’s definitely a sense that the heaviness of the riffs, the pounding presence of the drums… all the more “traditionally” Death Metal elements… are there to serve more as a foundation for the band’s proggy inclinations.
The signs of this are absolutely everywhere, from the way that the early ferocity of “Hel” eventually transitions into its stunningly atmospheric and eerily spacious second-half, to the clever construction of the tripartite “L’Appel Du Vide”, which makes up the fourth, fifth, and sixth tracks of the album, with the first part hitting you square in the solar-plexus with a series of hammering, heavyweight riffs and gargantuan grooves, then shifting seamlessly into the instrumental atmo-ambience of part two, before completing the circle with the equally heavy, but even more hooky, strains of “L’Appel Du Vide 3”.
And then there’s the aforementioned “Celestial Carnage” and “Burial Ground”, with the former’s twitchy, technical riffs and aggressive, adrenaline-fuelled drumming both working in harmony for the good of the greater song (rather than just as a showcase for the group’s deadly sonic skill-set) while at the same time making room for some welcome instrumental introspection along the way, and the latter making full use of its nine-minute run-time to really dive deep into the proggy side of things without neglecting the hooks or the heaviness.
Mark my words, this is an extremely promising debut from a band who already seem to be in possession of both the necessary ability and the necessary ambition to really make some waves.