In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
I’ve had technical death metal on the brain lately. Mind you: not “tech-death” as in practically everyone on Unique Leader (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but more in that sweet, sweet Death vein. I watched the new documentary on Chuck Schuldiner Death By Metal this weekend and it all came back: the intricate riffing, odd time signatures but most importantly the hooks. Damn but Chuck and co. could craft some major hooks to go along with the incredible chops. So for this edition of Second Circle I decided to check out two new releases from bands putting their own spin on what Death did so well so many years ago: Horrendous and Revocation. Both bands have been a bit of a mixed bag for me in the past; let’s dive in and see if that’s still the case.
With each album Philadelphia’s Horrendous have tweaked their death metal game, going from a dirty, early Entombed vibe to a tighter, more compressed technical death metal band. 2015’s Anareta had the chops, but the songwriting and production felt a little too tightly wound, sacrificing space in the sound to ensure everything hit with the same force (excepting the gorgeous solo passage in the stellar “Ozymandias”). I honestly thought that was probably it as far as my association with the band was concerned, but something happened with the move to Season of Mist, because new album Idol is not only their best album to date, but it’s a full-on prog death onslaught, showing the progression of power Schuldiner made jumping from Spiritual Healing to Human.
The first thing to note is how damn good the thing sounds. That tight compression over everything is gone, letting all the instruments breathe even as the arrangements of songs like “Soothsayer” and “Golgothan Tongues” become more intricate and less tied to genre conventions. Comparisons to Death and Human are apt, as one of the first things to really stand out is Alex Kulick’s bass lines. They move all over the place, completely unfettered yet still locking seamlessly with Jamie Knox’s drums. Keeping on “Golgothan Tongues” for a moment the solos and guitar work are unreal. Hooks are everywhere, but the whole second half of the song where solos pile on top of solos is a monster highlight. Luckily the album doesn’t stop with surprises: more killer bass opens “Divine Anhedonia” before plummeting into a frenzy of death metal. Working both guitar and vocals, Damien Herring and Matthew Knox have never sounded better. There’s incredible moments on every track, including the two small instrumental tracks, but closer “Obolus” is truly something special, a massive thick slab of everything I love about this kind of music.
Just goes to show you – never count a band like Horrendous out – they’re bound to surprise you. Idol is one of my biggest surprises this year.
There are metal guitar players who are great, and then there are metal guitar players who are startling. David Davidson firmly belongs in the second camp. Revocation have been consistently putting out solid death metal that straddles the line between technical and progressive for over a decade, and even when the results have been somewhat less than memorable, they’ve always been sharp and dazzling in the riff department. On seventh full length The Outer Ones the band moves into cosmic, H.P. Lovecraft inspired horror resulting in their strongest release since 2009’s Existence is Futile.
Both “of Unworldly Origin” and “That Which Consumes All Things” burst out of the gate with riffs practically piling one atop the other. Davidson’s penchant for different chord voicing and syncopation serve him well here, but for my money the real stars of The Outer Ones lie on the back half of the record. Starting with the twisted harmonized lead that opens the title track, each track has a barbed hook that burrows under your skin, whether it’s the chorus of “Vanitas” with its more open strumming against a strong line or the wonderful prog fury that is instrumental “Ex Nihilo” there’s just something more memorable about the second half of the album that makes me take notice. There are sections on “Luciferous” with tremolo picking that might be up there as some of the fastest moments Revocation have ever put to record. And “A Starless Darkness” simply has more riffs in it than most of the albums I listened to last month combined. Even when things get to be a bit dizzying, you can’t help but marvel at everything on display.
This kind of guitar work was what really drew me into metal in the first place, and though recently I haven’t found myself craving that style very often, both of these albums serve to remind me why I picked up a tennis racket and jammed to Yngwie and George Lynch in my bedroom as a kid.