Ever since I became part of the Technically Inclined podcast, I have become increasingly aware of the various flavors of tech death and how each band that plays under that genre has their own way of playing it. Because of this, I have opted to start reviewing more tech death, as I feel the genre does not get enough love unless it is combined with either a progressive or melodic touch. This brings me to Cathexis’ Untethered Abyss, an album that stays true to the tech death sound with a few flaws in between.
Now, for the most part, Untethered Abyss is good. It has a melodic groove that makes you want to move around, and each individual track has something that stands out. For example, “Harrowing Manifestation” and “Red Hook” both had several guitar riffs and tones that would not sound out of place on The Way of All Flesh. It also would not surprise me to see if they actually took inspiration from this album, as there seems to be a lot of sonic callbacks – there are touches and tones that seem to be taken straight from there. Those two songs are also the main peak for the first half of the album, which, after listening to the first two tracks, was a great reprieve from the monotony of their sound. It once again begins to pick up after the sixth track, “Mortuus in Perpetuum”, where they also make a callback to older Hypocrisy and have this cavernous sound that continually adds a sense of dread to what should be an album with groove. It gives the music some dissonance, giving it a slight darker tone that I would expect from tech death’s usual cleanliness and pristine sound.
Speaking of pristine, Untethered Abyss has great production value – the music is potent and catchy, the instrumentation is clean and can be heard, and the vocals are top-notch. It is clear that this band are clearly experts in how polished their instruments are supposed to sound, and that is rounded very well by how good the mix and master are. The music may not be what you want it to be, but you cannot deny that Cathexis has fantastic production value.
However, melodic groove, callbacks to other bands, and pristine production does not all an album make, and Untethered Abyss suffers from what I term “muddled runniness” – that is, the music can sometimes blur together, and you have no idea where you are on the album. There are moments – especially on the first two tracks – where I had no idea if a song had ended or had started, even if they ended and transitioned into the next track. In fact, first track “Horizonless Realm of Mechanical Retribution” is the weakest track, and it can easily deter you from listening to the rest of it. It can be a bit of a slog to get through, even if the tracks are short, and the fact that this is the opener makes it seem like the band is trying to move towards the faster side of tech death, rather than being strong and steady. It is clear that the band is talented, but they do need to be better about walking the line between cohesion and experimentation, especially when this is their third full-length.
All in all, Untethered Abyss shows a capacity for well-constructed instrumentation and pristine production value but suffers from muddled runniness. The best moments that Cathexis offers on the album are when they balance their sonic experimentation with cohesion, such as on “Harrowing Manifestation”, and I would like to see more of that on future releases.