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
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NILE
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NILE Those Whom the Gods Detest Album Cover Those Whom the Gods Detest
NILE
4.27 | 36 ratings
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NILE Annihilation of the Wicked Album Cover Annihilation of the Wicked
NILE
4.24 | 45 ratings
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technical death metal Music Reviews

GORGUTS Obscura

Album · 1998 · Technical Death Metal
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Necrotica
Was anybody actually ready for an album like Obscura back in 1998? Watch any early live performance of these songs on Youtube, and what you’ll see is a crowd that’s practically motionless. They’re not moshing, instead just stunned and transfixed at the bizarre dissonance and calculated chaos playing out before them. In the same year that other tech-death landmarks such as The Sound of Perseverance were being released, Gorguts had already left the archetypal trappings and conventions of the genre far behind with an avant-garde metal masterwork that stood - and still stands today - as a monument to mental anguish and turmoil.

I get the sense that much of the confusion and surprise surrounding Obscura stemmed from the sheer leap forward from its predecessor. The Erosion of Sanity is more sophisticated than Considered Dead, sure, but it’s still a relatively straightforward death metal album. No one could have predicted something like Obscura; imagine if Death released Individual Thought Patterns immediately after Scream Bloody Gore. So what happened? Well… Steeve Hurdle happened. Luc Lemay might be the co-founder and bandleader of Gorguts, but he’s never going to find a better wingman than Hurdle. The duo’s combined artistic vision led to a level of experimentation and twisted chemistry that can’t be matched anywhere else in the group’s catalog; if you have any doubts of Hurdle’s involvement in this partnership, the liner notes credit both him and Lemay with the “artistic direction” of Obscura.

And what an artistic direction this is. All of death metal’s stereotypical traits and tropes have been thrown out the window in favor of abstract lyrics, strange chord structures, and ever-changing time signatures. Instead of being technical for technicality’s sake, however, Gorguts use their musical toolkit as a means of communicating intense feelings of dread, despair, and viscera. While the songwriting is impressive, the way these emotions and thoughts are conveyed through the songwriting is what makes it so effective. It’s as if every weird bout of dissonance and every alien guitar squeal is another layer of sanity being ripped away from the listener. Of course, the vocals are also a massive contributor to this. If Lemay sounds demented and savage - which he does - Hurdle acts as his tortured and agonized counterpart. Every time Hurdle lets out a lyric, even if it’s not particularly disturbing, he transforms it into a twisted and ugly affair with his horrible retching and heaving. And what’s so wild about all of this is that the record makes more and more sense with repeated listens; what seems like chaos starts falling into place once you let the deliberate nature of the songwriting and execution sink in.

Of course, I don’t want to leave bassist Steve Cloutier or drummer Patrick Robert out of the picture either; the fact that they can make sense of the musical madness on Obscura and play these crazy riffs so impeccably is a feat unto itself. Their precision and technical acumen is a perfect foil for Lemay and Hurdle’s insane ideas, leading to a lot of chemistry between all members. Everyone is locked in with each other, which is absolutely necessary for an album that could go flying off the rails at any given time. Obscura reminds me a lot of Calculating Infinity by The Dillinger Escape Plan in that regard; both records have a habit of letting chaos and control coexist in strange and creative ways. Sometimes the two mingle, and sometimes they clash with each other. Still, one thing is for certain: the members of Gorguts are ridiculously talented. As for the lyrics, they’re a substantial step up from the band’s previous output; the gore and social commentary of yesteryear were now replaced with writings on existentialism, spiritualism, and - you guessed it - despair. In any case, they prove to be just as abstract and peculiar as the music they’re accompanying, which seems appropriate.

But to answer my original question: no, people were not ready for Obscura back in 1998. There’s a reason Gorguts are commonly cited as pioneers of avant-garde metal; nothing sounded like this back then, in the technical death metal genre or otherwise. If the album had proven anything, it was that many of their contemporaries were already being left in the dust artistically. Because of Obscura, extreme metal would simply never be the same again.

SPASME Deep Inside

Album · 2000 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Deep Inside" is the debut full-length studio album by Canadian death metal act Spasme. The album was released through Neoblast Records in 2000. Spasme formed in 1994 and released the 1995 "Traumatisme" demo (and an almost identical demo in 1999 titled "Deep Inside"). Only guitarist Mathieu Marcotte remains from the lineup who recorded the 1995 demo. The most notable addition to the ranks is lead vocalist Martin Lacroix, who would subsequently join Cryptopsy in 2001, touring with them and recording the 2003 "None So Live" live album before being asked to leave again in 2003.

While "Traumatisme" (1995) showed that Spasme had more up the sleeve than your average technical death metal act, "Deep Inside" takes that approach much further. It´s a dynamic, creative, and relatively varied technical death metal release. It´s brutal alright and new vocalist Lacroix has a deep but intelligible aggressive growling vocal style, which is brilliant, but the music is also loaded with breaks, tempo changes, atmospheric parts (the subtle use of keyboards is effectul and create atmosphere), and adventurous songwriting ideas. It´s no surprise that a technical death metal act is well playing and the skills are through the roof, but it still deserves a mention how well playing Spasme are and how many unconventional ideas they incorporate in their songs while still maintaining an element of catchiness.

I´m afraid the sound production leaves just a little to be desired and while it´s not a major issue, the album does sound a little thin, and could have prospered from a more meaty and brutal sound. The thin sound gives the album a demo recording quality aura, and while that´s maybe a bit too harsh when evaluating the sound production, I have to mention it.

Don´t be put off by my description of the sound production though, because "Deep Inside" is a technical death metal release which deserves a lot more attention and while it doesn´t quite possess what it takes to be a classic in the genre, it´s still a great album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is fully deserved.

SPASME Traumatisme

Demo · 1995 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Traumatisme" is the first demo release by Canadian death metal act Spasme. The demo was independently released on cassette tape in 1995. Spasme formed in 1994 and released this demo (and an almost identical demo in 1999 titled "Deep Inside"), and their debut full-length studio album "Deep Inside" in 2000 before disbanding in 2002.

The material on the 6 track, 20:43 minutes long demo is technical and relatively brutal death metal. The growling vocals are expressive and aggressive but also intelligible, and generally a great asset to the band´s sound. Spasme are a technically very well playing band, and especially the drumming by Jocelyn Beaupre is quite impressive. The material is relatively catchy for music this brutal, and although this isn´t the most unique sounding release in the genre, Spasme have something a little different to them, which makes this a promising first release. Breaks, tempo changes, and brutal riffs and vocals (and an audible and quite busy bass), but also short atmospheric parts which work as breathers. There´s even the use of keyboards at the end of "Secte" and "Sickly Deranged", which are only used for a few seconds, but still to great effect.

"Traumatisme" features what I´d characterize as a good demo quality sound production. It´s clear enough to hear all details, but still sounds a little like it´s recorded in the room next door. Upon conclusion it´s a pretty impressive demo release, and if the sound production had been just slightly better sounding, my rating would probably have been a little higher, as the music is very interesting and effectful. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

OBSCURA A Valediction

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
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siLLy puPPy
With so many technical death metal artists in existence it’s becoming ever more difficult to stay relevant in a room where so many are vying to find a way through the door and usurp your spot but some bands like Germany’s OBSCURA only seem to find a new sense of relevancy with each and every album despite the room becoming more crowded by the second. Going on almost 20 years of existence, these techies led by the legendary guitarist / vocalist / composer Steffen Kummerer has suffered more than most at keeping together a band whose members don’t want to stick around. Acting as more of a tech death university OBSCURA has seen a huge number of cast members rotate through the doors given that only six albums have seen the light of day.

After 2018’s “Diluvium,” the rotating band members all bailed in unison leaving Kummerer to start from scratch and take on the challenge to remain relevant as one of tech death’s most celebrated units all the while training a new crew to keep the ship sailing. Well as luck would have it, former band members Christian Münzner (guitars) and Paul Thesseling (fretless bass) just happened to be free to rejoin the band which takes 3/4 of the lineup back to the classic days of “Cosmogenesis” and “Omnivium,” the now deemed classic era of OBSCURA’s many renditions. To fill in the shoes of powerhouse percussionist comes David Diepold who has been and still remains a vital member of the English band Cognizance.

Three years after “Diluvium,” OBSCURA is back with an axe or two to grind on the sixth installment of their metallic legendary status in the form of A VALEDICTION which in both Latin and English means an act of bidding farewell. Now i do hope that this doesn’t refer to the end of the band itself as few bands have so successfully conquered the nasty world of tech death so gracefully and sustained itself for so long. Having always been masters of sonic manipulation, freeform fusion and a knack for inserting a strong emotional connection to what should seemingly come off as nothing but frenzied noise, OBSCURA has entered the area of intermediacy where technical death metal complexities have aligned with the more melodic sensibilities of power metal, thrash metal and melo-death only without compromising any of the virtuosic attributes that make OBSCURA so ferociously appealing.

A VALEDICTION features eleven tracks and showcases a new direction that takes a side step from the progressive headiness of the past and takes on a somewhat more accessible approach of adding just enough melodic immediacy to the mix. The result is one that takes OBSCURA more into the world of Necrophagist, Gorod, Archspire and First Fragment which as signifies a plentitude of creative dynamic shifts. In the case of OBSCURA there has always been such diversity and A VALEDICTION is no exception to this rule. There are still remnants of the moody acoustic intros as heard on the opening track “Forsaken” as well as a nice balance between the slower passages and the thunderous raucousness of the blastbeat driven metallic fury however this time around the OBSCURA experience is less about progressive meanderings that take you on a wild and unforeseen journey and instead focus on the neoclassical leanings to un fold the song structures albeit with all the deathened brutality that has never ceased.

Given the virtuosic prowess of all the members featured on A VALEDICTION, the fertile crossroads of technical wizardry and melodic motifs somehow cross-pollinate into a perfect paradise of instrumental interplay. Without the more heady progressive drifting, OBSCURA takes on a more direct approach and in the process Kummerer’s vocal style sounds to me more like the melo-death angstiness of Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho as the music sort of has that power metal meets tech death approach in a similar albeit more complex way. Despite this slight detour into the world of more melodic extreme metal, the musical rampages on like any OBSCURA fan could hope for. Slinky fretless bass grooves working in tandem with dueling guitar majesty and percussive bombast and a guarantee that Diepold certainly qualifies as one of metal’s most promising newbies on the block.

It’s always a stomach turner when one hears a near and dear talent like OBSCURA has drifted to the melodic side of the death metal equation since it has been the alienating surreal effects of atonalities and other unconventional methodologies that have made OBSCURA stand out in the first place but despite such concerns, it is a relief that Kummerer has triumphed once again in reinventing his baby by steering it only subtly in various directions without losing the underlying attributes that make OBSCURA what has always been. Very few can master these tightrope acts between unbridled experiments, beastly brutality and melodic masterful connectability in their music but it has been demonstrated on A VALEDICTION that OBSCURA is by no means in any danger of going the way of the dodo. In fact it seems like they only get better as time goes on.

SUNLESS Ylem

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The Willowtip Records label has been killing it in recent years by becoming one of the major players for crazy technical, brutal and progressive death metal world with its biggest successes emerging from Ulcerate, Gorod, Gigan, Slugdge, Mithras and others including today’s band of focus SUNLESS. This Minnesota band has been around since 2014 but only released its debut “Urraca” in 2017. For its second coming, SUNLESS has returned to delivery another dosage of darkened days, jagged surreal soundscapes and dissonant brutal atonal extreme metal bombast in the vein of classic Gorguts.

SUNLESS was seriously smitten with Gorguts worship on album #1 and the newest release YLEM which refers to a form of matter that is hypothesized by proponents of the Big Bang theory which is thought to have existed before the formation of the chemical elements is a huge step out from that unfortunate situation. Gawd, you gotta love tech death metal. Just for the fact you can improve your vocabulary in the English language if for no other reason! Well with such a title and concept it’s no surprise that SUNLESS does indulge in the abstract musical equivalent of the formless YLEM concept however the Big Bang references seem to apply more to the head banging brutal avant-death metal grooves forged in the fiery pits by the power trio of bassist Mitch Schooler, guitarist / vocalist Lucas Scott and the newest drummer in the SUNLESS family Taylor Hamel who replaces longtime member Ben Iburg.

This is a no nonsense type of tech death and unlike other 2021 tech death powerhouse bands such as Ad Nauseam doesn’t fuck around with swirling synth intros or non-metal ambience but rather YLEM erupts into a ferocious fury, cutting to the chase and delivering the tech death goods right from the getgo. Supposedly the second part of a conceptual trilogy (wow, does anybody really care about themes with growled lyrics sounding more like uncontrolled body functions than poetic prose?), YLEM tackles existential quandaries and universal paradoxes. Even if you cannot assign linguistic value to the tortured dungeon growls, the track titles will give you a clue as to the heady, abstract nature of this exhibition in mental and noisemaking gymnastics.

While “Urraca” was indeed a competent album, for my tastes SUNLESS’ first release was a bit too Gorguts by the books. YLEM corrects that problem and while still clearly in the same camp as Gorguts, Ulcerate, Pyrrhon and Ad Nauseam, this time around the sky with no sun, SUNLESS seems to have found its own style of avant-groove that sorta evokes a more sludgy effect of the tech death world. The drums for example are more akin to the simplified punctuated time keepers of bands like Eyehategod for much of the time but make no doubt about it, technical jazzified percussive workouts are littered throughout this cacophonous uproar of eight tracks that swallow 39 minutes of your life force.

Sounding something like a stampede of angry horses, YLEM is a relentless barrage of sound that has more of a focus than “Urraca.” It’s all very subtle in how everything was tightened up but the compositions are more refined, the jagged guitar riffs are more centered which allows more violent upheavals with the added abstractness of progressive sprawling time signature attacks. Rare moments of down time such as on “Altramentous” (another fun word meaning similar to or as black as ink!) when a few slower dissonant guitar riffs are allowed to chill out. This is an ominous ride for sure like a vacation on a quantum horizon where the fabric of time and space are seemingly unstable and ready for complete annihilation. Ah, tech death, you either love it or run to the hills. For a 2021 release, SUNLESS has done an exemplary job of upping its game.

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