Technical Death Metal

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Technical/progressive (or tech/prog) death metal is considered a legitimate genre by some (or even two legitimate genres), while others argue that it is a pseudo-genre. Bands included in this genre take emphasize technicality in their music, in the form of complex riffs and/or complex song structures, while others apply the ethos of progressive music more broadly without straying from their basic death metal sound. Death, Cynic and Atheist are considered central bands in the establishment of tech/prog death metal. Some bands, like Necrophagist, Obscura, and Braindrill, emphasize technique in their style and are considered technical death metal acts, while others, such as Opeth, Neuraxis, Sectu, and Nocturnus are considered primarily progressive death metal. Sometimes, jazz death metal is listed as a separate subgenre and comprises artists who incorporate elements from fusion jazz into their death metal style, such as Atheist, Cynic and Pestilence on “Spheres”. Given that brutal death metal bands tend to emphasize technique and compositional complexity, many brutal death metal bands, such as Suffocation and Hate Eternal, are also categorized as technical death metal bands. Some tech/prog death metal bands are so progressive on some releases that these are considered progressive metal rather than death metal, as is the case of some Atheist, Opeth and Cynic releases, that they are filed under progressive metal in the MMA rather than under death metal.

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DEATH Symbolic Album Cover Symbolic
DEATH
4.41 | 145 ratings
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DEATH The Sound of Perseverance Album Cover The Sound of Perseverance
DEATH
4.40 | 106 ratings
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DEATH Individual Thought Patterns Album Cover Individual Thought Patterns
DEATH
4.34 | 97 ratings
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DEATH Human Album Cover Human
DEATH
4.32 | 98 ratings
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GORGUTS Colored Sands Album Cover Colored Sands
GORGUTS
4.43 | 23 ratings
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NILE What Should Not be Unearthed Album Cover What Should Not be Unearthed
NILE
4.58 | 11 ratings
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OBSCURA Omnivium Album Cover Omnivium
OBSCURA
4.35 | 31 ratings
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ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence Album Cover Unquestionable Presence
ATHEIST
4.27 | 59 ratings
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CRYPTOPSY None So Vile Album Cover None So Vile
CRYPTOPSY
4.33 | 28 ratings
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BEYOND CREATION The Aura Album Cover The Aura
BEYOND CREATION
4.42 | 13 ratings
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AUGURY Fragmentary Evidence Album Cover Fragmentary Evidence
AUGURY
4.34 | 16 ratings
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NILE Annihilation of the Wicked Album Cover Annihilation of the Wicked
NILE
4.23 | 38 ratings
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technical death metal Music Reviews

AUGURY Illusive Golden Age

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
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adg211288
It's been a long road for the Canadian technical death metal act Augury to reach their third album, Illusive Golden Age (2018). Band members have come, gone and come back again and nine years have passed them by since the release of Fragmentary Evidence (2009), which itself took five years since their debut album Concealed (2004). The band was formed in 2002 and has never been outright inactive, but three albums in sixteen years isn't the most consistent showing. Augury is forgiven for this of course due to how bloody good those first two albums were. Augury is, as far as this humble reviewer is concerned, the best death metal act to have ever existed. Concealed is the main reason for that belief, but Fragmentary Evidence also goes a long way to strengthen it. Still, making their fans wait almost a whole decade for this follow-up can't have kept them in everyone's good graces. It's been so long that now that the album actually has dropped many may have even forgotten that these guys were in fact still around and who can blame them? But the third Augury album is here now and it's time to find out if it was worth the wait.

Hell. Fucking. Yes. Yes it was.

Illusive Golden Age has the sound of an album that is both familiar if you've heard Augury's earlier work but also with a bit of a different spin on it. The more atmospheric sections of music that they like to use have seen a reduction here compared to Fragmentary Evidence, as have the clean singing vocals from frontman Patrick Loisel, who main sticks to mixing his deep growling and higher pitched screams. His clean voice is still used but don't expect a track like the previous album's Sovereigns Unknown to show up during Illusive Golden Age. After nine years away Augury seem to have made a statement that they're all about the death metal. I'm not sure that anyone ever doubted that about them as they've always had a heavy sound and Loisel's deeper growls have always been brutal as hell, but that's the best description of how this album feels compared to their previous one that I can come up with.

That's not to say that their sound has become lesser by reducing these elements of variation. After all they are still there being used to effect when needed and the level of technical skill on display seems to be higher than ever, if that was even possible, including the audible fretless bass work from Dominic 'Forest' Lapointe. This is so noticeable it's like the bass is being used as the lead instrument. Not to sell what may be some of the best and most intricate technical death metal guitar work ever recorded short here, but fretless bass guitar works so damn well in this genre that it's near impossible not to focus on it as the band's defining feature. Augury and by extension Lapointe's ventures with similar band Beyond Creation have always done this well and it really does feel like he gets to share the centre stage with the two guitarists, Loisel and Mathieu Marcotte. That's very rare for a bass player and for me it's what really makes Augury more than simply technical, but also progressive.

Due to how technical and progressive their music is calling this album straight-forward seems like the start of a bad joke, but the simple fact that matter is that Illusive Golden Age is undeniably a bit less unusual in terms of its song-writing direction, especially if you're comparing it to the often weird Concealed (which for me remains their best album) or the more atmospheric Fragmentary Evidence. I think maybe stripped back would be a more appropriate way to describe it in relation to their previous, but Illusive Golden Age can only be called generic at your own peril. Augury's ability to write coherent and mostly unelongated songs while still being so technical with their riffs should quickly squash any such thoughts you might be having about this release. They did not make their comeback as just another generic tech death act by any means. They've made their comeback with an album that still sounds distinctly like an Augury album that has its own identity from their previous two. I don't know about you readers, but I'll take it.

I haven't mentioned any specific songs from Illusive Golden Age yet and that's because of the eight it's difficult to single out any particular one and then convincingly justify why that one is better. It can't be done. At a total running time of 44:20 Illusive Golden Age is pretty easy to take in during a single listen and let it all in as a singular experience. I will say that Augury made a good choice in Mater Dolorosa as the first song released to promote the album as it is a great one for getting a feel of exactly what to expect from the album. I didn't personally have any doubts that Augury would deliver when they eventually managed to get a third album out, but this song certainly sealed the deal on a CD pre-order from me. Of course there was little doubt that I'd have bought it anyway, but that song was enough to know that I need this in my hands as soon as possible. This is the death metal album to beat in 2018. I have little faith that anyone will come close to what Augury achieved here though. The long wait is forgiven...though try not to leave it another nine years next time lads.

RIVERS OF NIHIL Where Owls Know My Name

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
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Necrotica
In the 23 years I've spent on this planet, Where Owls Know My Name may be the most frustrating album I've ever encountered. Somewhere within this behemoth of a record, there lies an amazing journey that's equal parts harsh and melancholic; unfortunately, all of the external baggage caused by the inconsequential songwriting and sterile production robs it of its power. What's really sad is that, initially, all the ingredients to make this a masterpiece are in place. We're presented with incredible technical abilities from the musicians, lots of emotional potency in the performances, and an experience that's clearly striving to elevate the world of progressive death metal to something more ambitious and impactful. However, Where Owls Know My Name just goes in one ear and out the other and quickly becomes a dull grind akin to background noise.

The lack of dynamic range may actually be the biggest culprit here, especially as far as the metal sections go. There never seem to be any discernible climaxes or moments of catharsis, as the waves of guitar distortion and compressed production just wash over any sense of sonic variety. The best moments of variation and emotional weight come in the form of the album's quieter segments, such as the subtle keyboard-driven opener "Cancer/Moonspeak" or the beautiful saxophone break in "The Silent Life." But even these types of segments tend to be undercut by the generic riffing and djent-oriented chugs that kill both the pacing and ambition of the album. The entire first half of "Old Nothing" is crammed with intrusive blastbeats and dull deathcore riffs that ruin the album's sense of progression, as well as killing any potential atmosphere that could make it interesting. On top of that, quite a few moments just sound out of place and... well... ugly. "A Home" sounded great during the opening guitar chords, and the band didn't really need to throw a giant mess of triggered drum acrobatics all over it. Really, the majority of the metal in this experience is defined by strikingly similar chord progressions and tempos being glazed with gutless melodic noise that fills the treble end, while some chugs and mid tempo drum progressions try to fill in the cracks of the low end. That's basically the metal-oriented material in a nutshell, and it defines most of the tracklist. It's really easy to tune out of this album as it's playing, and very few moments really manage to gain one's attention back in a significant way.

Still, I'll give credit where it's due. Some moments still manage to be breathtaking, most notably that gorgeous acoustic intro to "Subtle Change." The song sounds like a real expedition, as the melodic bass traverses across the ample terrain of the rolling drums... there's a lot of 70s prog influence on this one, and it's one of the only songs in which the loud and quiet moments aren't too intrusive to each other. There's also a nice cleanly sung ballad intro that kicks off the title track, reminding me a lot of Paul Masvidal's vocals in the last few Cynic records. Finally, the last track "Capricorn/Agoratopia" cleverly brings the album full circle by using the intro track and giving it more fleshed-out instrumental accompaniment to drive the final mini-epic home. It's a decent way to conclude Where Owls Know My Name; I just wish the journey to get there was worth it.

It's not that the album comes off as misguided, but rather it sounds inconsequential and dull. If it was reduced to about 30-35 minutes and given an EP format, I might recommend it to fans of progressive death metal or even post metal. But in its current state, it happens to be arduous, overbearing, and boring all at the same time.

THE FACELESS Akeldama

Album · 2006 · Technical Death Metal
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Sea Whisperer
THE FACELESS is a Technical Death metal band from Encino, California, founded by guitarist Michael Keene and bassist Brandon Giffin in 2004. Their debut album “Akeldama” (“Field of blood” in Aramaic), released in 2006, turned out to be very mature and well-written work, showing immense potential of the collective.

To say that music on “Akeldama” is diverse is to make an understatement. This album can serve as an encyclopedia of technical extreme metal, incorporating almost any trick from its arsenal you can think of. Differently sounding parts replace each other in quick succession. At one moment we hear NILE-like tremolo riffs with recognizable oriental mood, at next – a NECROPHAGIST-styled part and then – Deathcore breakdowns. To keep all these different fragments consistent and prevent songs from falling apart is a difficult task by itself, but most of the time the band is capable to do just that, thanks to Michael Keene’s songwriting talents (and small length of the songs, I guess). Despite of being influenced by some colleagues from tech-death scene, on this album THE FACELESS already developed their own style – cascades of intricate riffs, rapid changes in rhythm and tempo, sudden stops, intense, aggressive drumming, very neat use of keyboards, providing additional coloration and depth of the music, and using both clean and harsh vocals.

Production of the album is amazing: guitar tone is thick and edgy, bass is audible, drums are clear and loud. Musicianship is impressive – from guest drummers’ great performance to spectacular guitar work by Michael Keene, who delivers tons of technically challenging riffs and several tasteful solos, without slipping to mindless shredding. Derek Rydquist’s vocals, both screaming and growling, fit music perfectly.

My personal favourites from this album are “Horizons of Chaos I: Oracle of the Onslaught”, starting and ending with a very memorable “flowing” riff, “Leica”, containing some cool harmonized solos (if Halloween played Technical Death metal, they would probably sound something like that), and a title track, a brilliant Fusion Metal instrumental (reminding of some songs by Counter-World Experience), featuring great solo parts by all players (especially Keene and the drummer) and dreamy atmosphere.

Summary: a very solid debut, complex and diverse, marking the beginning of the way of one of the most interesting Technical Death metal bands nowadays.

PORTAL Ion

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The stygian band PORTAL has emerged from its secret Australian outpost after a five year gap following their previous release “Vexovoid” (which ironically has already spawned a new band with that name). Following in the footsteps of their extreme surreality that some call avant-garde blackened death metal comes the followup ION which continues the brash brutality fix that they have been known for since the beginning. While their influences may have emerged from Morbid Angel, Beherit and Immolation, PORTAL have long since found their own comfort zone of death metal reality to call their own by becoming one with a parallel musical reality that sounds as if they are somehow trapped between a hyperdrive dimensional shift and in the process something went really, really wrong. Drowned in darkness and delivered in dense undulating waves of sonic fury, ION finds PORTAL churning out their most frenetic and brutal release to date.

As the intro track “Nth” slinks into existence as if a subtle hazy brume has wafted into your room, the ghostly fortifications of muffled tortured screams emulate with backmasked effects creating a dark ambient horrorshow soundtrack and thus insinuating a return to the impenetrable layers of atmospheric darkness that had created their wickedly new realm for extreme tech death metal. However, as the first blistering notes of “ESP ION AGE” rage into the scene, we are confronted with a new interdimensional rage and fury usually reserved for only the most brutal of death metal beasts more often heard in bands like Suffocation, however the angular nature and complete detachment from traditional old school standards allows a sepulchral wall of sound that allows each wailing formless riff to pierce the soul like a dagger flaying a adrenaline fueled beating heart. Add the pummeling relentless percussive overdrive with groaning guttural growls and the divinity of chaos has been reached.

The name ION is a fitting title if you know chemistry. An ION is an atom or a molecule with a non-zero net electrical charge, meaning it is either positive or negative and very susceptible to energy changes thus creating a potential for massive instability. As such PORTAL have constructed the perfect soundtrack for a state of energy easily activated by entropic changes and thus erratic and unpredictable shifts in magnetic fields. The noises emerging from the freneticism of the guitar, bass and drums are tantamount to the ionizing effect of a built up electrical charge bolting down from the thundering skies above with pulverizing consequences for any hapless atoms in the line of fire. PORTAL simulates the same sort of lightning bolt reality with jagged undulating waves of sound that capture brutal metal instrumentation in flux with atmospheric dungeony bleakness.

PORTAL remains an enigmatic and mysterious beast. Graced with faced masks and alter egos (such as The Curator on vocals and Horror Illogium on lead guitar), the band more than lives up to this alienating image with the brutal angularity and interdimensional avant-garde compositional constructs of ION. Once the dark ambient intro cedes into the frenetic chaotic metal meltdown the album remains relentless in its caustic between-realities surrealism that culminates in the harsh noise sonic terrorism of the instrumental “Spores” and then after one more shovel in the face with “Phathom” ends the album with the psychically damaging metaphysical dark ambient horror theme outro of “Old Guarde.”

While many tech death bands try to deliver the goods by creating sonic impressions of otherworldly atmospheres and moods, nobody does it quite like PORTAL. Perhaps the strange landscapes of their land down under have given them an alternative view on reality where their angular riffs shape shift like restless sands in the great deserts that cover most of their homeland. Whatever the case, PORTAL have perfected their sonic surrealistic terrorism with nine undulating tracks that despite sounding like no other band, remain utterly distinct from each other as one seemingly formless riff frenzy somehow ekes out a series of recognizable patterns that barely allow it to be classified as music as if the band are in the process of creating a whole new grammatical paradigm for death metal. One that the listener learn this new diabolical language and lexicon before being admitted to the club. Yes, this is an acquired taste reserved for only the seekers of the most technical sort of earache music possible, but if that’s what you crave, PORTAL delivers like a charm.

HATED Breathless Art

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
As the 21st century churns along, it seems that the heavy metal of the 80s and 90s has become ever more distant as bands continue to experiment and strive to find ways to differentiate themselves from the gazillions more bands on the planet these days. In the world of death metal, this has never been more true with the technical strain reaching out in every possible direction, sometimes hitting on something totally awesome (think Gorguts, Obscura or Portal) and more often than not retreading someone else’s surrealistic fantasy (too many culprits to mention). Hailing from the outpost city of Orenburg, Russia which is straddled next to the border with Kazakhstan comes a new type of band that also straddles borders musically speaking. HATED was founded in 2014 and tackles the retro 90s sound of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death in its full glory.

The band is a mere trio consisting of Tim “Graveyard” Verb on bass, Morgoth Hel on both guitars and drums and guitarist / vocalist who goes by the sole name Andrew. HATED succeed in producing a fiery cacophonous technical workout with the obvious influences deriving from Death albums such as “Human,” “Individual Thought Patterns” and “Symbolic.” Never before have i heard such a convincing second coming of Chuck Schuldiner’s unique and innovative sound finding new life long after his untimely passing. So convincing is HATED’s performance on their debut digital release BREATHLESS ART that if someone were to tell me that this was some sort of long lost collection of unreleased Death tracks, i would fuckin’ believe them. Even Andrew’s vocals are a dead ringer for the dead singer as he nails every aspect and nuance of Schuldiner’s idiosyncratic style. Likewise the guitar riffs, bass and drum parts simulate the complexities of the aforementioned Death period of albums.

For the most part HATED dish out an almost perfect carbon copy of Schuldiner and the rest but they do add their own to it as well albeit not as often as i would prefer. As well as the plethora of Death sound blasting out at high decibilage complete with frenetic guitar squeal solos and chugging riffs, the band at times implements standard classic 80s thrash and traditional riffing and captures the early 90s zeitgeist quite successfully. Old school is the name of the game with this one however some of the compositions take the approach of newer tech wizards Vektor with more sophisticated compositional changes and deviations from the straight forwardness of old school performances. I guess in that respect they do tackle the Death experience of “The Sound Of Perseverance” at times but the tracks have more of an old school death metal form of worship.

HATED simply nails the Death retro sound. Hyperactive intense guitar riffs complexly transverse sophisticated compositional multiverses with Andrew’s impressive vocal range effortlessly assuaging every distorted note into compliance. HATED is very much a band to look out for in the future. At this point they are way too derivative of their icons for my comfort but BREATHLESS ART is an intensely compelling listen finding the power trio in full command of their retrospective musical roles. The tracks are exquisitely designed and manage to match the high standards of classic Death. Once these guys shed the blatant Schuldiner worship and find a more original style of their own, these guys could be the next Vektor. I’m the meantime they more than impress on their rehashed and uninventive musical prowess.

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