Well, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these, but now that I have some time to sit down and write, I decided to talk about another genre near and dear to my heart that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention (unless you are Unique Leader Records, which, in that case, they are doing the Lord’s work).
Last time I wrote something for the column, I finished talking about ten genres in metal that I was introduced to, in addition to adding ten more albums for reference. I also hinted at another genre that I love—I have too many of those—that will be discussed.
Also, the last time I wrote something, I was not under quarantine, so please remember to wash your hands.
Well, it’s time.
As many of you know, I have my favorite genres when it comes to my listening preferences, and I tend to not stray far from that path. However, since my early encounter with them, that genre is a comfort, one that I can reach out to when I need it.
Also, fair warning: I know I tend to hyperbolize a lot of things that have happened to me—because humor is the best medicine to dealing with misery—but make no mistake: they still come back to haunt me when I am feeling down.
Let’s talk about Tech Death.
Too Many Fretless Riffs
Now, before I even begin talking about tech death, my introduction to the genre was very minimal at best, as it didn’t cause me to have an epiphany the way other genres did. This may be due to what I was into at the time, so it only makes sense that I barely batted an eye towards the genre.
Looking back at it now, it might have been because I was still not into death metal, but that would be stupid because I clearly like symphonic death metal, so what is happening here? My theory is that my brain was still filtering the “noisier” aspects of the genre, and the only things I was able to discern were the orchestral aspects of the music I enjoyed. Again, it’s to my detriment, but I got here eventually.
Before high school graduation, I was fully invested into the genres I was into, being able to listen to most of it without bother and hoping to someday go to a concert where I could enjoy myself. After high school graduation, I was feeling uncertain about the next steps in life—even though I knew I was going to college—and spent almost the entire summer hanging out at my then-friend Ty’s house. At this point, I was still not using YouTube to the extent I do now but something had caught my attention in the weeks prior to graduation that wouldn’t leave my head like an insufferable earworm.
While at his house I decided to take advantage of the Internet access given to me and went looking for that specific video that I had heard and couldn’t get out of my head. Back in those early fandom days, while I was getting a crash course in metal and getting Touhou bullet helled, I remember encountering a very early video that that had this colorful artwork as the thumbnail. Once I clicked on it to see what the whole thing was about, I was transported to a world that I previously had never seen before, filled with a persistent bassline that made me wonder why metal didn’t utilize a lot more bass.
That video was titled “Vortex Omnivium – Obscura”—which I can’t find anymore—and that was my introduction to tech death as I knew it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to a tech death album until months later after I was given an external drive filled with music and I found myself looking through the files early one morning. My first year in university was absolute hell and the only thing that kept me sane between my absurd sleeping schedule and not having enough money to eat was music. While being awake at 6 am on a Wednesday sounded normal, classes didn’t start until 9 am, so I had a lot of time on my hands during those days.
One item caught my eye, so I loaded it into my iPod that I used at the time, hit play, and it became my companion for that very unsettling first year as a university student. In fact, I played that album until I couldn’t stand it, putting it away as soon as I learned to torrent.
After that, my love affair with tech death was minimal at best, keeping it as something of a secret and only listening to it when I encountered it. It’s the main reason why it wasn’t part of the bullet hell sequence I introduced many months ago, as it didn’t fit the many genres I was exploring at the time. I just didn’t think it was important for me to come back to, especially when I was fascinated by other matters.
However, I was very wrong to ignore it, as it eventually came back to bite me when I got the urge for something heavier than the standard diet of prog, symphonic, and melodeath.
It was only after I graduated university and had free time on my hands that I managed to catch up on some of my music I wanted to listen to, which included Obscura. This band quickly became my favorite after spending time with four of their albums, and I loved it so much that they are now one of the many bands I pay attention to. This has also widened my vision into the genre itself, allowing me to pursue some of the Unique Leader Records catalogue and opening myself up to new tech death that wasn’t Obscura. Granted, some of it still borders on pretentious (looking at you, Allegaeon and Archspire), but what I have encountered is still good and worth a try.
Tech Death Gateway Albums
Before we even touch upon the three albums I picked for this column, I wanted to point out that there is a large time gap between the first and second listing. Although it might not be a lot, the spatial difference where I was at the time when I first listened to the first and when I got my hands on the second album is monumental, I was in two separate mental spaces and they each come with their own set of issues. Yikes.
Gojira – The Way of All Flesh (2008): I am surprised I have made it this far without talking about Gojira, whose album started my rabbit hole into tech death, which also marked a significant part of my life that haunts me from time to time.
This album, along with Lacuna Coil’s Dark Adrenaline— which I have written about previously —became the cornerstone of my first year in university, keeping me company during the early mornings where I was awake for too many hours, felt lonelier due to being awake, and literally starved, losing so much weight in one semester that I sometimes wonder if getting my Bachelor’s degree was actually worth it (it truly was, but not for those reasons). It provided me the comfort I needed at the time, accompanying me during the drives to university in those early mornings and keeping me sane. In fact, “Vacuity” is the song I mostly associate with that time, as the hard-hitting lyrics made themselves at home in my mind. In fact, this album is one of the few albums that I played past the one-year mark as I kept it in constant rotation for the entirety of my freshman year. Unfortunately, I don’t have the data to show for it as smartphones were still a relatively new thing at that time (time flies, doesn’t it?). However, I can still tell you how much The Way of All Flesh meant to me at a rather confusing time.
Now, I know “Vacuity”—hell, The Way of All Flesh—is an emotional album, but it has a very distinct message. For the first time since I encountered metal there was something extremely political about this album that made my brain click. Unlike Epica, whose album themes deal with the dangers of organized religion, Gojira tends to emphasize environmental awareness with a slight misanthropic attitude towards humanity. They ultimately want people to care about what’s happening to the world even as we slowly edge towards death ourselves. We are entropy and we are the only ones who can control what happens while we go through that process. We are humans and we will be dust; might as well give a shit about our home if we are to pass it to our future generations.
It seems the song “A Sight to Behold” continues to haunt me to this day.
While it wouldn’t qualify as a traditional tech death album, especially due to the hints of prog that eventually became a juggernaut in Magma (and I didn’t see it as a tech death album until years later), The Way of All Flesh was one of the first albums that gave me a taste of tech death and of extreme metal as a whole. It didn’t strike me as something that would be classified as such but, given its accessibility and how it stands out in my mind, it’s a great introduction to the hesitant metalhead who is way too comfortable in their own niche. Besides, what better way to tell someone to give a shit than by introducing them to Gojira?
Before I move forward, I also wanted to mention the fantastic song called “Of Blood and Salt,” which fried my brain when I first heard it back in 2015. I am not even going to mention why, but if you do know, keep the secret, won’t you?
Obscura – Cosmogenesis (2009): I am also surprised I have made it this far without talking about Obscura in writing. I have talked a lot about them in the past, including on the podcast, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I love almost everything about this band.
While my first introduction to tech death via song was “Vortex Omnivium” in 2011, it wasn’t until 2016 that Obscura clicked something in my brain. In 2016 I had a lot of time on my hands so I decided to pass the time (and the deep depression that I had) by listening to music and cataloguing it to keep track of everything I listened to. In that list of albums I had the Obscura discography (at the time) as part of this list so I went back and listened to the first three. Now, I vividly remember liking “Vortex Omnivium,” but I still wasn’t into Omnivium so I started with Retribution and worked my way to Cosmogenesis. Besides, I wanted to understand how they got to Omnivium, so I took the plunge and was completely hooked.
Now, as I mentioned previously, while The Way of All Flesh was the first tech death record I ever heard it didn’t feel like a tech death record as the band was more about their lyrics than their musicality. I had also missed out on the Necrophagist era of music as I was still getting into metal by the time the band broke up, so my frame of reference was incredibly limited.
The reason I love this album is due to how well it straddles the fine line between technical and musical mastery and the amount of joy it gives me cannot be stated enough. Cosmogenesis is one of those albums that will eventually become a classic in the tech death sphere as it blends the technical aspects of death metal and the musical transitions of a good hook. As I listened to this to write about it I couldn’t help but notice how quickly I was taken with it. While the band tends to focus on how “instrumental” the music is—the dichotomy between composer and instrumentalist is truly a blurred line—Obscura also add flashes of melody and groove to their music which makes it both enjoyable and awe-inspiring.
However, Obscura also suffers from sticking to their guns, as they tend to have one specific sound, all centering around their fretless bassline. While I have no complaints on that front, it could potentially be to their detriment. Hell, Diluvium showed more of a sonic progression than their first three albums so, perhaps they need to build on their variation some more. As long as they don’t become another Archspire. Maybe they can take a page out of Beyond Creation or Allegaeon’s book by either incorporating more experimental sounds or an out-of-place instrument, like a cello (I would kill for cello accompaniment on an Obscura record).
Speaking of orchestral accompaniment –
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth (2013): If you thought I wasn’t going to talk about Fleshgod, then who do you think I am?
Before they became a symphonic death metal juggernaut with the fantastic King in 2016, Fleshgod’s humble beginnings were of the tech death variety. While I knew who they were I hadn’t listened to them at all and, as it happens, they were part of the list of mixtapes I had created with Obscura on it. They also had three albums out at the time, so what better way to catch up on the tech death by going back?
Now, hear me out, I know Labyrinth does not technically count as a “pure” tech death album because of their symphonic leanings—meaning I wasn’t surprised when they put out the fucking banger that is King—but their technical prowess is still something to be impressed about. These guys know how to how to play their instruments, blending their speed and technical ability while also being able to compose a concept album from scratch. It’s obvious that Fleshgod are fantastic musicians and they began to shift into symphonic metal by adding an opera singer and more orchestra into their sound. Granted, this is still technical. The riffs are fast, the piano is lively, and they remain as adherent as ever to their aesthetic, but this sonic shift makes their music cleaner and more accessible.
I am also a sucker for opera and orchestra so you can’t blame me for this.
In comparison to Oracles—can we appreciate how their cover art looks a lot like Obscura’s for a bit there, especially with that color scheme?—which falls fully into the tech death category (with a slight symphonic flair, I may add), Labyrinth just sounds better. It’s obvious that they are taking what their predecessors created and put their spin into it. However, unlike their predecessors, whose main instrumental focus is the aforementioned fretless bass, Fleshgod focuses more on their drumming. In fact, the big thing that Fleshgod’s got going for them is how precise their drumming is. While it tends to be fast and heavy most of the time, their drummer clearly knows how to do it well, creating cohesion within all the chaos that is their instrumentality. You can also hear their sonic evolution as Labyrinth was pushing towards their symphonic elements more. Particularly with the eventual recruitment of their session opera singer, Veronica Bordacchini.
Listening to Labyrinth reminds me that I have come a long way since deciding to expand my own niche outside of my preferred genres. Granted, it’s my own fault that I didn’t pay attention to their music since the beginning, but that’s to my own chagrin. Now, I can’t wait to hear what they are up to next. I have also seen them in concert and have now officially warmed up to Veleno.
Whew. Looks like I finally managed to get it together enough in order to write something new for the column. Now you all know that I am secretly into tech death.
Tune in next time as I decide to talk about another genre that I will have to do some research on, since it’s an amalgamation of several other genres. I already talked about gothic metal, so I can’t make jokes about Frankenstein’s monster.
Hasta la proxima!