I’ve heard the same complaint so many times: people claiming that technical death metal bands often get bogged down playing the most complicated riffs and time signatures possible, rendering the music soulless and boring. Bands like Gorguts, Pyrrhon and Artificial Brain have proven that idea wrong just in the past two years. Those bands perfected a mixture of brutality and intricacy, and were more effective where they converged. On their sixth and self-titled album, Australian quartet Psycroptic strives for that same balance, and occasionally reaches it.
From Psycroptic‘s first track, “Echoes to Come,” the band sets the tone for the album. A short, soft intro is quickly covered up by staggering blast beats, sideways guitar licks, and at least two vocalists trading off lines or roaring together. On two separate occasions, the song pauses momentarily, all momentum coming to a grinding halt, only to proceed seemingly at double-time. The drums move faster, guitar notes pile on top of each other, and the singers sound like they’re doing some kind of unclean harmony. It’s an all-at-once sound intended to evoke the idea of extremity, piling it all on at once.
Because of the amount of ideas flying around on Psycroptic, it becomes the kind of album where it’s easy to get caught up in a small detail of a song. There’s the way “Cold” stretches out the last note in its first riff, or how the band yells in unison on the end of “Echoes to Come.” The song that’s most interesting as a whole is the incredibly fast (by technical death metal standards) “Setting the Skies Ablaze.” The band’s vocalists chant quickly over frenetic rhythms in the opening section of the song, before launching into some type of chorus. Other than that, it’s like looking at a painting up close and only being able to see small pieces at a time: you can see that the colors blend well together, and you like the shapes in the images, but it’s going to take a long time before you have an idea of what the whole painting looks like.
The members of Pyrrhon once addressed the number of critics who wrote about their last album, The Mother of Virtues, as though it was based on improvisation. It wasn’t, and in fact consisted of repeating song structures that were planned out well in advance. Psycropytic, in comparison, is less likely to be accused of the same. (Maybe on “Ideals that Won’t Surrender,” whose solo sounds kind of strange. There’s also that long groan/yell in the early-going of “Sentence of Immortality.”)
By and large, the songs have a planned-out syncopation to them: here’s where we play a restrained solo guitar section, here’s where we gang up on vocals, here’s where the drums speed up. It’s a feat of engineering, no doubt. It reminds me of Xibalba’s latest album Tierra y Libertad, where you could feel the band moving towards the “mosh section” or the “hardcore stomp section” of a song. It’s an oddly comforting feeling a lot of the time, and a strange counterpoint to the elaborate drumming and guitar playing on the record.