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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technical death metal top albums

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DEATH Symbolic Album Cover Symbolic
DEATH
4.43 | 167 ratings
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DEATH The Sound of Perseverance Album Cover The Sound of Perseverance
DEATH
4.41 | 127 ratings
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GORGUTS Colored Sands Album Cover Colored Sands
GORGUTS
4.44 | 25 ratings
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ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence Album Cover Unquestionable Presence
ATHEIST
4.32 | 73 ratings
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DEATH Individual Thought Patterns Album Cover Individual Thought Patterns
DEATH
4.30 | 115 ratings
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CRYPTOPSY None So Vile Album Cover None So Vile
CRYPTOPSY
4.37 | 32 ratings
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NILE What Should Not be Unearthed Album Cover What Should Not be Unearthed
NILE
4.41 | 17 ratings
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BEYOND CREATION The Aura Album Cover The Aura
BEYOND CREATION
4.41 | 17 ratings
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NOCTURNUS The Key Album Cover The Key
NOCTURNUS
4.38 | 20 ratings
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AUGURY Fragmentary Evidence Album Cover Fragmentary Evidence
AUGURY
4.35 | 20 ratings
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NILE Those Whom the Gods Detest Album Cover Those Whom the Gods Detest
NILE
4.26 | 34 ratings
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DEATH Human Album Cover Human
DEATH
4.19 | 120 ratings
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technical death metal Music Reviews

DEATH The Sound of Perseverance

Album · 1998 · Technical Death Metal
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siLLy puPPy
After “Symbolic,” Chuck Schuldiner decided to disband DEATH in favor of forming a progressive power metal band called Control Denied and spent a great deal of energy finding the right lineup and began to work on material for the debut album but once the trajectory was launched there was a sudden demand for a new DEATH album and when all was said and done Schuldiner opted to kick the Control Denied project down the road a bit longer and craft DEATH’s seventh and final album THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE. Guitarist Shannon Hamm and newbie drummer Richard Christy who were scouted out for the Control Denied project were included in this final DEATH lineup and along with bassist Scott Clendenin, Schuldiner unleashed his most ambitious album yet, one that was more technical, more progressive, more melodic and best of all more ferocious with Schuldiner’s vocal shrieks entering true realm of demonic splendor.

While the majority of the lineup was picked up to craft a power metal album, not a death metal album, the overall compositional style of THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE comes across very much as a power death metal hybrid only with some of the most progressive twists and turns in the entire DEATH canon. One of the advantages of having a completely different lineup is that each album exudes a completely different stylistic approach yet Schuldiner’s distinct songwriting prowess accompanied by his classic death shrieks and guitar playing remained the constant and although a totally new cast of musicians can be a hindrance, the new to the scene members on THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE were more than up to the task and performed like seasoned veterans despite never been in any significant bands prior. At an hour’s length DEATH’s final swan song focused on melodic death metal hooks, stampeding guitar bombast and hairpin turns which contrasted tempos, dynamics and moods without losing a beat much less the emotional rawness.

At just over 56 minutes with nine tracks, THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE achieved the unthinkable and reached the perfection of its predecessor “Symbolic” but took things even further into the world of experimentation with not only more technically infused chops but even featured the all instrumental “Voice Of The Soul” which used acoustic guitars as the backbone with melodic electric guitar soloing over it. Schuldiner’s voice took on a higher pitch which allowed his vocals to sound a bit more like Rob Halford made all the more evident by the closing cover tune of Judas Priest's “Painkiller” which surprisingly not only worked well as a tag on to the final DEATH album but also signified the passing of the baton from the death metal world to the progressive world of power metal. While faithful to the original, the track featured a complete reworking of the guitar solos which is perhaps the only small part of the album that i don’t find perfect but hardly disturbing enough to impact the overall perfection of this magnificent metal masterpiece.

THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE is truly one of those perfect albums from beginning to end that i can put on replay and never grow tired of. Everything DEATH had inculcated into its sound on the six albums prior expands horizons on this final chapter with an intensity that shows the truth resilience of Schuldiner’s metal god status. Right from the very first double-bass kick pedal drumming of “Scavenger Of Human Sorrow,” the new DEATH delivered a uniform intensity throughout the album which allowed each chug-festing track to excel at maximum decibelage in a fast and furious sonic attack that allowed each musician to deliver a cacophonous roar of metal excellence. This more intense nature of the album necessitated the acoustic intermission “Voice Of The Soul” to allow a moment of catching your breath in order to unleash the second dose of caustic ramping metal madness that closes the final chapter of the DEATH universe with a major bang. Of the latter tracks which excludes the “Painkiller” cover, the notable “A Moment Of Clarity” cranks out a near 7 1/2 minute running time with some of the most progressive elements on the entire album.

While this band lineup would go on create the only Control Denied album along with another ex-DEATH member Steve DiGiorgio and could possibly be considered a DEATH album in its own right, this was the official end of the line for the powerhouse metal monster that has only grown in magnitude as the decades elapsed. THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE is unblemished by nine ridiculously perfect tracks that deftly balance the technical aspects with the melodic hooks as well as providing just enough respite from the incessant brutality. This grande finale is also a testament to Schuldiner’s creative spirit as it seemed impossible to take the DEATH brand anywhere logically relevant past the perfection of “Symbolic” yet that’s exactly what Schuldiner did on this magical display of this second molten metal masterpiece in a row. Could DEATH have come back and delivered an equally unthinkable followup to this album? We’ll never know because shortly after the release of the Control Denied album Schuldiner would succumb to cancer only leaving a legendary metal god in the aftermath. All i can say is that if you have to go out on a high note, it couldn’t get much higher than this one.

DEATH Symbolic

Album · 1995 · Technical Death Metal
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In only a decade Chuck Schuldiner transmogrified his proto-death metal Mantas into the real deal by delivering the first fully agreed upon death metal album in the form of 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore” with the more familiar moniker DEATH. However this was one artist who was never content to rest on his laurels and continued to evolve DEATH’s sound with each following album which subtly became more sophisticated and employed ever more experimental and technical aspects of progressive rock into his unique brand until it’s difficult to even consider DEATH a death metal band at all at least in the old school traditional sense.

By the time Schuldiner got to his sixth and most revered album, the band had gone through a ridiculous number of lineup changes but despite the rotating cast members each album continued to raise the bar closer to perfection. Well on SYMBOLIC that pinnacle of metal masterpiece material was finally achieved. This album featured two new members on the team. Guitarist Bobby Koelbe replaced Andy LaRoque and Kelly Conlon took over Steve Di Giorgio’s bass duties however unlike “Individual Thought Patterns,” SYMBOLIC featured a standard fretted bass instead of the fretless. While only Schuldiner and drummer Gene Hoglan remained from the previous album, the band at this point was a well-oiled machine capable of metal magic that has catapulted this album to the top of every “best of” metal list.

Virtually every aspect of SYMBOLIC is an improvement over what came before. Withe the very first heavy guitar riffs of the opening title track it’s clear that the band had reached the apex of excellence with dueling twin guitar attacks, fiery fueled compositions that exhibited more hairpin turns and diverse dynamics and best of all Schuldiner’s unique snarling vocal style that featured a wider range and more controlled precision unlike previous albums. Hoglan’s drumming dynamism took on new heights as well with precise technical chops infused with blitzkrieg speed attacks that showcased bouts of psychotic savagery. The album also featured stronger melodic sensibilities that kept DEATH uniquely in that happy place between the thrash metal world of Exodus, Forbidden, Overkill, Megadeath and the death metal 90s bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary and Autopsy.

While not the first tech death band DEATH nevertheless was in the forefront following Atheist, Cynic and Nocturnus. Having moved on from the shock and gore old school death metal themes a few albums back, SYMBOLIC featured more advanced lyrical themes that was instrumental in ushering in a new era of the more “mature” brand of death metal that explored more expansive themes and featured exhilarating changes of dynamics in the musical procession. This is basically where DEATH found the perfect balance of all the elements that had made the band stand out from its contemporaries. If that wasn’t enough SYMBOLIC also benefited from a better production and mixing job with each instrument finding its proper space to fully unleash its potential. The guitar sounds are perfectly placed and while the bass may not dominate, it provides an essential backdrop that allows the explosive drumming wizardry to stand out.

For the first time listener it may be a difficult task to understand what makes SYMBOLIC stand out amongst the previous albums. DEATH was not an in-yer-face kind of band that changed things drastically from album to album. The basic elements were pretty much retained and simply refined into a sleeker production. SYMBOLIC seems to be the point where all of the DEATH-isms simply aligned in the right places where chaos and melody intertwined, fiery virtuosity danced with traditional cyclical grooves and atmospheric dynamics such as clean guitar intros and off-kilter breaks offered a contrast to the incessant bombastic barrage of the twin guitar riffing and snarling growling vocal style of Schuldiner. Each track excelled in standing out from the rest and the album doesn’t offer one weak moment.

SYMBOLIC remains as stunningly fresh sounding as it must have some quarter of a century ago when it first stunned the world with its brash new interpretation of the fairly new kid on the block in the metal universe. This sixth album by DEATH is simply one of the best tightrope acts of walking the line between the melodic world of extreme thrash metal and the grittier filth of death metal all the while adding technical wizardry that added a sense of highbrow sophistication. Despite SYMBOLIC’s status as metal masterpiece that always ranks high on classic metal albums lists, DEATH wasn’t exactly met with admiration by the masses as it was a little too ahead of the game. Due to tensions with Roadrunner Records, Schuldiner actually broke up DEATH after SYMBOLIC and focused on the clean vocal splinter band Control Denied but eventually returned to the studio to craft one last metal masterpiece under the DEATH moniker with “The Sound of Perseverance.” As far as the core sounds of DEATH go, most consider this the pinnacle of the band’s existence and i cannot find any arguments against that myself.

DEATH Individual Thought Patterns

Album · 1993 · Technical Death Metal
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By the early 90s death metal was in full extreme metal swing and wreaking havoc on the metal underground. Pioneering artist Chuck Schuldiner had incrementally participated in launching the entire scene and was fairly keen to keep a few steps ahead of the imitators however with four albums under his belt, the fifth album INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS in many ways seems to be the only spot in the DEATH canon where Schuldiner felt it was OK to rest on his laurels and let the pot simmer for awhile although album #5 is a bit heavier and more immediate than its predecessor.

This was yet another occasion for a lineup change with guitarist Andy LaRoque replacing Paul Masdival for a one album appearance and drummer Sean Reinert jumping ship to work on the Cynic project. He was replaced by Gene Hoglan from Dark Angel. Steve Di Giorgio stuck around to play bass but switched over to the fretless variety which gave INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS a bit more of a “techy” feel than DEATH’s previous releases. While still firmly perched in the extreme metal underground, the band released a video for “The Philospher” most famously appearing on Beavis & Butthead which found them ridiculed for the extreme nature of the vocal style which hadn’t quite caught on with mainstream metal fans stuck in the 80s.

For those not paying too close attention, INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS very much comes across as a business as usual followup to “Human” and in many ways it is just that. Sure the fretless bass and slightly amped up aggression set it apart in subtle ways but for the most part the progressive and technical challenges that emerged on the “Human” album remained firmly parked at a certain juncture on the DEATH highway and wouldn’t be fully realized until the following “Symbolic” and “The Sound of Perseverance” ended the exhilarating saga of the DEATH experience. Also while death metal had all but splintered off from its parent thrash roots, DEATH still managed to keep some of those thrashy elements alive and kicking thus making DEATH a unique act that continued to straddle both the thrash and death metal worlds while continuing to add more progressive boldness to its sound.

While perhaps a bit of a stop in the road, any given DEATH album juncture actually more than deserved an accompanying album or two and Schuldiner certainly could have milked it for more than he did but the fact that he was so restless and eager to progress to the next level is one of the primary reasons he is so revered by modern standards but of course having passed on at a young age in order to attain legendary status hasn’t been a hinderance either. INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS continues right where “Human” left off with the immediacy of in-yer-face death metal tracks that were succinct with atavistic thrash metal attributes. In other words, brilliant guitar riffing that builds passages and then hairpin turns into seemingly unrelated segments that in lesser hands would derail into oblivion but at this point Schuldiner was a master of navigating crazy time signatures changes, bold compositional passages without missing a beat.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT PATTERNS is that is sandwiched between two superior albums IMHO. The revolutionary advances of “Human” and the metal god perfection of “Symbolic” sort of make this one sound less dynamic than it really is. For me it takes some serious focus to ignore those other albums and simply concentrate on this one which when i do results in a most satisfying experience that while not living up to the standards of what came next or the wow factor of what came before, still resonates quite high in its own right. If you listen closely and attentively this one does present a slight advancement over “Human” although it’s a bit imperceptible upon first contact. The tracks are very similar in structure and the diverse dynamics that would be adopted later hadn’t quite manifested yet but for a solid kick ass early tech death metal album it doesn’t really get much better than this except for DEATH’s other albums. Seriously, no DEATH fan will find many faults with this although if you’re like me you won’t find it to be the absolute pinnacle of the band’s prowess either.

DEIVOS Praised by Generations

Demo · 1999 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Praised by Generations" is a demo release by Polish death metal act Deivos. The demo (which is sometimes referred to as an EP) was released through Broken Mind Records in February 1999. It´s the band´s first release and there wouldn´t be another until 2003 when Deivos released the "Hostile Blood" EP. Deivos were formed in 1997 as a three-piece and the same three-piece lineup are responsible for recording "Praised by Generations". The band didn´t have a drummer at the time of recording the material, so the drums on the release are programmed by guitarists Tomasz Kolcon and Maciej Nawrocki, who also handle the bass playing on the demo. Lead vocalist Marcin Gorniak completes the trio lineup.

The music style on the 5 track, 17:01 minutes long demo is brutal death metal. It´s technically well played, brutal, and powerful music, and Deivos are obviously aware of how to write a good effectful death metal tune. It´s not that the music on the demo stand out on the death metal scene or that Deivos have a particularly distinct sound, but the compositions are damn solid. The sound production drags the demo down a bit, as it´s clearly not a professional recording, but as far as demos go, the sound is decent enough. The programmed drums are tolerable too, but when they sound most "artificial" (there is something about the hi-hat sound, which rubs me wrong), it´s audible that a human drummer would have made the listening experience a more interesting one.

As far as doing what a demo is suppossed to do, which is introduce an artist´s music to labels and music reviewers, I´d say "Praised by Generations" does a pretty great job. The demo is consistent in style and quality, and although not everything about the demo is high quality, it´s still obvious that Deivos are an act worth investigating further. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

PORTAL Avow

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
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PORTAL, the modern masters of technical death metal dementia return with the sixth studio album AVOW and collectively continues the explorations of an alternative musical universe that somehow defies musical orthodoxies by crafting a terrifying mix of speed of light extreme metal ferocity with some of the most unnerving dissonance and atmospheric gloom ever crafted. Just one look at the album cover art will give you a creepy feeling that you are about to be sonically assaulted in complete darkness like a poltergeist invasion flooding your consciousness with terrifying stimuli. A place where escape is futile and only incongruous swarms of sound exist in a systematic attack of the senses that will unnerve all but the boldest and bravest musical explorers. Yeah, baby! Bring it on, hehe!

Stylistically PORTAL has remained rather consistent in its razor-sharp tech death metal assaults laced with ominous atmospheres since it debuted with 2003’s “Seepia” but really focused heavily on the possibilities of unorthodox production processes and even more crazed compositional experimentation when the band really set things in motion with 2007’s “Outre.” AVOW looks back to “Outre" after flirting with elements of thrash metal and more straight forward death metal moments on albums like “Vexovoid” and “ION.” To be honest i’m a connoisseur of all these mind-blowing experimental approaches but i consider this psycho blend of tech death acumen with atmospheric creepery to be PORTAL’s specialty and in that regard AVOW does not disappoint one little bit and offers a return to form in that direction.

While AVOW arrives three years after the band’s previous efforts, the year 2021 actually sees not one but two new PORTAL releases. AVOW is accompanied by “Hagbulbia” which takes the most abrasive and terrifying aspects of the dark ambient, noise and death / black ambient elements and takes them to the limit only devoid of the metal elements which still dominate on AVOW. Like any reasonable band, PORTAL doesn’t deviate too far from the formula that got them noticed in the first place and there is nothing on AVOW that will either initiate new members to cult or scare established followers away. In many ways AVOW is actually sort of a retreat to the comfort zone of “Ouvre” which wasn’t carried on to the following “Swarth” but even though PORTAL retains the expected elements which make them who they are, the band still is careful to craft each album distinctly as not to sound like simple retreads.

No doubt about it that PORTAL is an acquired taste reserved only for the most adventurous musical explorers who crave the most outrageous qualities of avant-prog, dark ambient, extreme technical metal and atonally ominous emotional feedback. PORTAL wastes no time with the opening “Catalfalque” which sounds like a swarm of restless poltergeists hungry for warfare with pummeling blastbeasts, incessant dissonant guitar and bass riffs and dark, brooding and even claustrophobic vocal utterances from the one and only The Curator. While sounding like an amorphous army of demons sporadically spewing hate in a haphazard rampage, somehow the band manages to keep an avant-groove behind the scenes from allowing the entire thing to collapse in an insufferable heap.

It’s fairly difficult to convey what PORTAL sounds like in words. This is truly the soundtrack of nightmares and many make may claim that this isn’t even music as it’s pretty much taken every possible element of more popular forms of musical composure and has thrown them out the window and that even includes the world of established extreme metal genera. While tech death metal is the closest thing to a tag you can conjure up, PORTAL must be experienced in all its wriggling noisy mayhem as the band deftly walks that tightrope act between composition and pure chaos but few bands deliver the goods in such an utterly satisfying manner. Too extreme even for many extreme metal heads, PORTAL remains defiantly a darkened underground act that AVOW will not erase as there is absolutely nothing on board that would suggest that PORTAL is on the verge of selling out. This is sonic terror metal from beginning to end and the kind of stuff that scratches that itch when everything else just seems too predictable and for that i gladly take this journey into the noise metal dimension.

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