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
4.39 | 153 ratings
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DEATH The Sound of Perseverance Album Cover The Sound of Perseverance
DEATH
4.39 | 112 ratings
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GORGUTS Colored Sands Album Cover Colored Sands
GORGUTS
4.42 | 23 ratings
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DEATH Individual Thought Patterns Album Cover Individual Thought Patterns
DEATH
4.29 | 102 ratings
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ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence Album Cover Unquestionable Presence
ATHEIST
4.27 | 62 ratings
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BEYOND CREATION The Aura Album Cover The Aura
BEYOND CREATION
4.43 | 15 ratings
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CRYPTOPSY None So Vile Album Cover None So Vile
CRYPTOPSY
4.30 | 28 ratings
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NILE What Should Not be Unearthed Album Cover What Should Not be Unearthed
NILE
4.43 | 12 ratings
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DEATH Human Album Cover Human
DEATH
4.17 | 105 ratings
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NILE Those Whom the Gods Detest Album Cover Those Whom the Gods Detest
NILE
4.22 | 30 ratings
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ATHEIST Elements Album Cover Elements
ATHEIST
4.18 | 50 ratings
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NILE Annihilation of the Wicked Album Cover Annihilation of the Wicked
NILE
4.19 | 38 ratings
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technical death metal Music Reviews

VALE OF PNATH Accursed

EP · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Accursed" is an EP release by US, Colorado based death metal act Vale of Pnath. The EP was released through Willowtip Records in May 2019. Vale of Pnath formed in 2006, released an EP in 2008, their debut full-length studio album "The Prodigal Empire" in 2011, and their sophomore studio album "II" in 2016. Since then there haven´t been any new releases, but there have also been quite a few lineup changes since "II (2016)", which is a possible explaination for the three years between "II (2016)" and "Accursed". Drummer Eric W. Brown is only credited here as a session player, guitarist Eloy Montes has been replaced by Harrison Patuto and bassist Alan Parades has been replaced by Andy Torres. The only permanent members remaining from the lineup who recorded "II (2016)" are guitarist Vance Valenzuela and lead vocalist Reece Deeter.

"Accursed" marks a bit of a musical shift for Vale of Pnath, who on their previous releases were a technical/progressive death metal act in the vein (and quality) of artists like Obscura, Beyond Creation, and Augury. Stylistically "Accursed" is still technical/progressive death metal, but it´s often an artist like The Black Dahlia Murder I´m reminded of instead of the above mentioned artists. The vocal style is now predominantly higher pitched screaming and only occasionally growling, and the music is very melodic and often features neo-classical touches (which isn´t something new in the musical universe of Vale of Pnath though).

Vale of Pnath are very skilled musicians and the speed and dexterity of the playing is impressive. Lighting fast riffs/leads and high level technical drumming. Vale of Pnath were always successful creating dark sci-fi atmospheres and that continues on "Accursed", which features a dark and raw sound, which suits the material well. The songwriting is generally very intriguing. Just the first couple of minutes of "The Darkest Gate" (which is the first regular track on the EP after the short atmospheric opener "Shadow and Agony") features multible musical changes and changes in pace, and Vale of Pnath are obviously skilled composers, who understand how to structure musical elements and ideas to the greatest effect.

When all the positives are said (and there are many positives to mention), "Accursed" isn´t the most original sounding release. Vale of Pnath may be skilled composers and a technically very well playing act, but they lack that last songwriting uniqueness to set them fully apart from other artists in a similar vein. "Accursed" is still a high quality release though and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

NILE Vile Nilotic Rites

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Still reeling from the high of seeing NILE play an energetic and exhilarating live show at the Oakland Metro Operahouse in lovely Oakland, CA supporting the band’s ninth studio album VILE NILOTIC RITES, i’ve still got my Egyptology hat on coupled with the death metal technicalities riffing through my head and the new album crankin’ in my earbuds on automatic replay. It’s been four long years since “What Should Not Be Unearthed” displayed the technical death metal wizardry of Karl Sanders’ baby and since then there has been a changing of the guard leaving only half of the band that played on the previous album. Dallas Toler-Wade departed in 2015 and left a void for both guitarist and bassist. Instead of recruiting another multi-instrumentalist to cover both, Sanders has replaced him with bassist / vocalist Brad Parris along with guitarist / vocalist Brian Kingsland. Both Sanders and long time drummer George Kollias remain firmly in control of their craft and although half the lineup is new to the game, the classic NILE sound of yore not explored since 2005’s “Annihilation of the Wicked” has returned like Coptic vestiges of long lost pharaohs.

After that 2005 mega-mastery of technical death metal wrapped up in ancient historical themes and imagery, NILE seemed to ditch the unique aspects of the Egyptian folk instrumentation that made the band stand out from the legion of death metal bands active in the 21st century and instead opted to engage in a relentless brutal delivery of technical guitar riffs and the usual suspects of labyrinthine song structures delivered at the speed of light. Virtuosic dissonant rampages of sound were the rule of the roost and even though NILE delivered the satisfaction of extremely professional sounding stampedes of sonic wizardry, i have been missing those slower introspective flirtations with the ancient sounds of traditional Egyptian music that sound as if they emerged right out of a Conan The Barbarian soundtrack. Well, my days of waiting are over as VILE NILOTIC RITES simultaneously takes NILE into a new musical paradigm that delivers an expanded palette of metal antics but also reaches back to the days when the Egyptian flavors were as prevalent as the sandy tan hues of the great pyramids of Giza.

Firstly i was surprised to find that Sanders, Parris and Kingsland pretty much share the vocals on this album, a surprise because they all sound so very much alike and i would never have noticed had i not seen the live performances. Stylistically NILE deliver the expected goods of caustic technically infused death metal guitar riffs along with the deepened growls that take serpentine paths into the mysteries of the hieroglyphic laden ancient past while bedazzling us with 21st century brutal bombast along with a nod here and there to Sanders’ early Morbid Angel connection with the sizzling squeal of a guitar solo. However despite the wrath of the NILE sound smacking me in the face at full force, there is more variation this time around. Not only does drummer George Kollias engage in a wider range of percussive pummelation but spends as much time taking a simpler route than delivering the madman in hyper speed approach the entire run. The music not only engages in the usual freneticism of the quickened death metal but also reverts back to some fo the death doom elements that launched the NILE sound in the first place.

Best of all are tracks like “Seven Horns Of War” that begin with the soundtrack quality epic sounds that gave birth to the unique musical scales and alternative tunings that give NILE its own distinct and instantly recognizable sound and while this track uses these effects as an intro and for closure, the lengthier intermission “Thus Sayeth The Parasites Of The Mind” implements a longer more intricate display of Saharan orchestration that sets the proper mood for mummies in the catacombs. The beauty of VILE NILOTIC RITES is how the brutal bombast of the tech death riffing alternates so perfectly with the slower slinking classical orchestrations and unlike previous albums that kept the two segregated, this one allows the two to stand side by side. On the metal side, NILE engages in more streamlined riffing attacks that sometimes offers some thrashy variations and often repeated riffs along with the chaotic meandering flow of dissonant distortion.

This is the sound i’ve been hoping NILE would revisit and here it is without sacrificing the art of moving forward while looking back. This album perfectly represents what NILE does best and that would be simply cranking out those exotic death metal riffs fortified by the esoteric sounding Saharan musical styles along with the sun scorched atmospheres of a ruling dynasty from so long ago. The epic mythological feel of earlier albums is completely restored and to great effect. While i’ve pretty much loved every NILE album since the debut, it’s this blend of styles that works best for my ears and VILE NILOTIC RITES delivers in the proper proportions and leaves me wanting more. This album reminds me of while NILE is near the top of my list for 21st century metal bands and easily maintains its own status quo while cranking out another batch of outstanding top notch quality tech death metal tracks. While it’s true NILE doesn’t stray too far away from the apple tree which gave it life, that is not such a bad thing when the wellspring is so plentiful and the sound is so original that i don’t get tired of it. A casual listen may sound like a mere retread but after several spins of this amazingly beautiful slice of tech death heaven, i’m enchanted by the subtle differences from the band’s past as well as the much needed revival of the softer elements that evoke the proper sonic spirits. The live performances i experienced were just icing on the cake.

ANATA The Infernal Depths of Hatred

Album · 1998 · Technical Death Metal
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siLLy puPPy
ANATA started out in Varberg, Sweden (just south of Gothenburg) all the way back in 1993 when Fredrik Schälin (vocals, guitar), Mattias Svensson (guitar), Martin Sjöstrand (bass), and Robert Petersson (drums) started jamming to their favorite death metal bands and took their sweet time in releasing the two demos “Bury Forever The Garden Of Life” and “Vast Lands Of My Infernal Dominion” but the practice and patience paid off because as the band was honing its chops it successfully caught the attention of the Seasons of the Mist label. By the time the band got to releasing the 1998 debut THE INFERNAL DEPTHS OF HATRED there was a new lineup with Henrik Drake on bass and Andreas Allenmark.

Noted for their brutality and technical inclinations, ANATA’s debut started out as a typical death metal release in the vein of Cryptopsy, Deicide and Dark Tranquility only more bombastic, with faster tempos and a sense of brutality more like Suffocation. The band’s unique stamp was that it implemented C# tuning and created melodic constructs out of dissonant guitar riffs. While sounding rather generic on this first offering, the band exhibited a firm command of the instrumentation with lightning fast riffs that pummel away the senses and with heavy distortion and hints of progressiveness that would mature on future albums although one wouldn’t call this technical by today’s standards especially when side by side by other 1998 landmarks such as Gorguts’ magnum opus “Obscura.”

While creating melodic tracks instead of focusing on the rhythmic patterns that many tech death bands use to construct their labyrinthine progressions, ANATA has been referred to as melodic death metal given that the band emerged near the epicenter of melo-death, the Gothenburg scene where bands like At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility got the ball rolling. Having played with bands like Rotting Christ, there is a sense of blackened death metal in the mix as well. Overall the tracks contain a plethora of ridiculously fast tempos with incessant dissonant guitar riffs pounding away with the occasional Morbid Angel influenced guitar squeal or two. The musicianship is top notch but overall i find this to be a bit too generic for its own good as the tech death world had evolved significantly by this time.

Particularly impressive is the drumming prowess of Robert Petersson who nails all the blastbeat and jazzified fills like a pro. Fredrik Schälin’s growly vocals offer zero variation as he simply imitates the growly grunts of the past and in the process contributes to the rather stale presentation on display. As far as variation in the music though, there’s enough disparate elements to keep this from being a total waste of time although for those not accustomed to the fastest tempos played in a death metal context, this will probably all sound the same. Overall i’m impressed by the instrumental skills of the musicians involved on THE INFERNAL DEPTHS OF HATRED but the compositional fortitude is clearly lacking as ANATA is simply going through the motions without really placing their own stamp on the world of extreme metal at this point. Still though ANATA are considered one of the more important bands of tech death so the logical place to start is in the beginning and although this debut isn’t the most stellar example of tech death metal, it certainly gets the job done.

NOCTURNUS AD Paradox

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Paradox" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Nocturnus A.D.. The album was released through Profound Lore Records in May 2019. The original Nocturnus was founded in 1987 by lead vocalist/drummer Mike Browning after leaving Morbid Angel. Browning recorded two albums with Nocturnus in the early 90s, before he was fired from the band which led to an acrimonious battle over the Nocturnus name. A battle which Browning lost preventing him from releasing anything using the Nocturnus name. In 1999 Browning and two of the other original members of Nocturnus founded Nocturnus A.D., but soon changed the name to After Death, to avoid confusion with the then still active Nocturnus. In the years between 2000-2013 After Death released some demos, but didn´t get around to releasing any new studio material. In the meantime Nocturnus called it quits, and Browning decided to change the name of his band back to Nocturnus A.D.. With a lineup of new musicians (who joined the band in 2013 or later, one of them being former Xecutioner/Obituary bassist Daniel Tucker), Browning and the rest of the band were finally able to record and release "Paradox".

As far as I can see the album features new original material, and none of the demo material from the After Death days (if interested you can find that material compiled on the 2007 "Retronomicon" compilation album released under the After Death monicker). Instead Nocturnus A.D. have opted to release an album which sounds like it´s the lost album, which should have been released after Nocturnus debut album "The Key (1990)", reintroducing sci-fi elements and themes, which had otherwise been reduced in favor of more occult tinged lyrical themes, during the After Death days. On "Paradox" the sci-fi themes and the occult/anti-Christian themes are combined, just as the case was on "The Key (1990)".

It´s actually amazing how similar in sound and style "Paradox" is to "The Key (1990)" (the biggest difference is the presence of occasional blast beats on "Paradox") and it was pretty surely a conscious decision by the band to write material that fans of their debut album could instantly relate to. So the listener is treated to well played old school death metal, with nods toward technical/progressive death metal, featuring atmospheric and futuristic sounding keyboards, loads of fast shredding guitar solos, solid drumming (a bit "stiff" at times, but suiting the music well), and Browning´s raw barking growling vocals in front. I´m persionally not a huge fan of his voice and vocal style (hoarse throaty growling, staccato phrasing), but I enjoy that the vocals are intelligible. "Paradox" is a concept album, which continues the sci-fi/occult themed story which was initiated on "The Key (1990)", so there´s further conceptual continuity there.

"Paradox" features a raw, detailed, and powerful sound production, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion Nocturnus A.D. have created a high quality death metal release, and while the different name should prevent me from calling this a true comeback album, I´ll risk the wrath of the gods and call it just that. This sounds more like Nocturnus than the "real" Nocturnus ever did after Browning was kicked out. Welcome back. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DAWN OF NIL Culminating Ruins

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
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UMUR
"Culminating Ruins" is the debut full-length studio album by French progressive death metal act Dawn of Nil. The album was independently released in May 2019. Dawn of Nil is a one-man project formed by Vincent Laugier, who performs all instruments and vocals on the album.

Stylistically the music on "Culminating Ruins" is progressive death/black metal, often atmospheric in nature (keyboards are occasionally used and the album feautures acoustic parts too). The vocals are low in the mix growling/occasional black metal screaming, and the riff- and rhythm styles vary between death metal and black metal influenced playing styles (often in the more melodic end of the spectrum). The material is structurally adventurous and there are some pretty creative songwriting ideas on the album.

It´s obvious that Laugier is both a skilled musician and knows how to compose music, but the sound production on "Culminating Ruins", do come off slightly amaturish. It´s a bit too audible that the drums are programmed, which wouldn´t be a problem if the artificial programmed drum sound was an integral part of the the soundscape and enhanced it, but here they work like a replacement for a human drummer, because a human drummer was either not available or because Laugier did not want to bring in a session musician to play the drums. It´s sometimes the curse of one-man projects that the artist has full control and often don´t realise that outside input could have enhanced their project greatly. The drums are otherwise well programmed, they just sound a little stiff and artificial.

The choice to place the vocals as low in the mix as they have been placed is another production choice I question. Maybe they are placed this low to create a mystical effect or something like that, but to my ears it does not work well. They sound like a deep growling noise in the soundscape and thereby more like an instrument than actual vocals.

So upon conclusion I´ll praise the many creative songwriting ideas on the album (and the many great epic and melodic moments) and the fact that Laugier is a capable musician, but the songs really aren´t that memorable and they generally don´t differ enough from each other (there are many great ideas, but they aren´t put together in a particularly effectful or memorable fashion), and as mentioned above the "bedroom" sound production and the programmed drums don´t do the material any favors either. I overall respect the basis of project, but to my ears the glass is only half full, and Laugier still has some way to go, before releasing what I would characterize as a fully professional sounding release. Still a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

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