I’ve gotta admit, I had no idea that Psycroptic has been around as long as they have until I listened to Buke’s interview with drummer Dave Haley (go and listen to it, like, now). I have listened to them before, but my introduction to them came from 2018’s As the Kingdom Drowns, and the reason I checked that album out in the first place was because the cover art was created by Mariusz Lewandowski (maaaaaaaan, RIP). Of course, when I listened, I was blown away by the deft mix of tech and death metal, and when I saw we got the promo for Divine Council, it was a no-brainer for me to grab it.
Seven full-lengths and twenty years precede Divine Council, but you’d never know it listening to this album. Right from the get-go, this is a band that is firing on all cylinders, with a fury and drive that only seems to get more intense with each release. As always, the ship is steered and anchored by Joe and Dave, the Brothers Haley on guitar and drums, respectively, and Jason Peppiatt and Todd Stern return on vocals and bass, also respectively. However, as you might expect, Divine Council is an album that was written and recorded separately in the midst of the beginning stages of the pandemic. Being from Australia (and various corners of Australia, at that), the band had an extra rough time of it, what with Australia having much more strict lockdowns than North Americans experienced (seriously, go listen to the above linked podcast episode for the full breakdown). For better or worse, much of Divine Council was pieced together in solitude, and the state of the world heavily fuels the suffocating atmosphere of the record. While the members were not able to get together physically as much as they would like, that’s not to say Divine Council is without a hint of friendship and camaraderie, as longtime friend Jason Keyser of Origin contributed guest vocals to many of the tracks, adding a variety of vocal stylings to compliment Peppiatt’s and his lyrics recounting the myriad ways humanity squanders, wastes and destroys all the nice things we have.
From the very first seconds of the monster drum intro that kicks off “Rend Asunder,” you get the feeling that Divine Council is a thing of special beauty, and by “special beauty” I mean “rip your fucking head off.” The razor sharp riff that kicks things into high gear after Dave is done putting on a clinic in under thirty seconds effortlessly straddles the line between ass-beating thrash and technical flourish, which is exactly what drew me into Psycroptic in the first place. They very often get lumped in with the tech death crowd, and I can definitely understand where this comes from, but they have always been a band that uses their flashes of technical acrobatics to augment a solid foundation in heavy, old-school grooves instead of making fretboard antics their bread and butter. Not that the lads can’t play, of course. Divine Council is a masterclass in each instrument, especially Dave, whose pandemic-driven chop-building certainly does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. The fact that all this showmanship is in service to the song is something absolutely laudable. The number of hooks here is absolutely insane, and each song feels like it has something to offer instead of blending into a blur of shredding. I mean, try listening to the main riff of “Ashes of Our Empire” and not break your neck headbanging. I don’t think it can be done.
Divine Council is a workout of a listen, but with a solid 40-minute runtime and plenty of hooks and earworm riffs, it’s one that begs repeated listens. It doesn’t seem that time or a pandemic has slowed down Psycroptic much at all, which is great. The future seems to be wide open for them, as every release seems to just get better and better. A lot of newer bands need to take notice of what they do right.