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Technical Ecstasy #4: The Best of Virtuoso Metal

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In this column, Invisible Oranges Copy Editor Andrew Rothmund delves into the best tech-saturated underground metal from every spectrum and persuasion. Oftentimes, blatant technicality destroys metal, overblowing it and stealing precious limelight from songwriting and composition. However, some musicians manage to wrangle their runaway mechanical skills, transforming what would otherwise be gibberish into imaginative (or just plain heavy) works of art.

Technicality is not just flavoring; rather, it’s a flavored substance unto itself. How (and even why) it’s manifested determines its final form and ultimate impact upon the music. The goal may be sheer heaviness, or it might be utmost speed — hell, it might even be total wankery — but the concept is the same: give mechanical complexity The Human Touch. That’s the art. Somehow turn digital back into analog; somehow give life to something otherwise by definition faceless and robotic. What’s especially beneficial for the discerning ear is the fact that technicality can, as described, breathe through such a wide variety of styles. To wit, this column is not a tech-death column (though, obviously, I goddamn love tech-death).

There were two criteria for this installment’s selections (aside from how they had to be blatantly technical): they had to be released last month, and their respective manifestations of technicality had to have distinct, unique channels. Below, you’ll find straight-up death metal, utterly bonkers Italian avant-garde metal, and (spoiler alert) slug-themed metal. Each comes from an entirely different source, yet all meet at the very same point: where instrumental calisthenics become so mind-bending they take on a life, character, and story all their own.

Quantum HierarchyNeutron Breed EP
March 30th, 2018

The bridge between old-school and new-school is usually difficult to build, but it can be done. You’ll end up neither sounding new or old; something more like current. But that’s great too — nothing’s better than living in the present, not caring about past nor future. That’s how Neutron Breed makes you feel, anyway, with its catchy but classy riffing and occasional mindless chug moment. The album is chock full of stuff to grasp your base-level attention (technicality, here, acting perhaps at its most primitive), but not overwhelm you in any way. Digestibility oftentimes comes as an expense when you crank technicality up; here, however, the opposite is true. The music was written with its inspirations (the band even names them: Morbid Angel, Excommunion, and Incantation) in mind — grounding it coherently — execution-wise, Quantum Hierarchy takes the extreme route. Handled with aplomb, the increased intensity only brightens in impact of fine musicianship. Certainly, this is a “musician’s album,” but there’s enough hefty gusto to round out the package and mask any over-brazenness which may result as a byproduct of just ripping it as hard as possible every second of each track (well okay, there are only four, totalling 11 minutes).

Order ov Riven CathedralsGöbekli Tepe
March 22nd, 2018

Leave it to the Italians and their penchant for style. Göbekli Tepe churns with such aggressive groove that, at times, you almost have to stand back and ask yourself why. The answer is simple though: because it’s cool. Not exactly a for-the-fun-of-it band, though, Order ov Riven Cathedrals pounds home a multi-layered, heavily saturated product. The album begs only for a small portion of your attention (the rest it steals), and plays through almost like a movie score for some hyperbolic, postmodern Hollywood sci-fi film. Some gratuitous and impressively ranged vocals juxtapose Göbekli Tepe‘s unapologetically machine-like nature. While oftentimes such mechanization leads to sterility (a point I’ve made before), here it’s twisted around on itself: the album’s humanity is actually as cold as steel. Part of this counter-force involves riffs which actually sound like they were written by a human, and an oddly humble one too, as guitars cede to synth, drums, and everything else surprisingly often. To call Göbekli Tepe “well-rounded” would be funny, though; nonetheless, tracks like “Wrath ov a Photon God” are so hilariously extreme that not smiling is impossible.

SlugdgeEsoteric Malacology
March 2nd, 2018

This album garnered praise and made some waves, and with a deft touch to boot. Aesthetic-wise (i.e. marketing), the balance between seriousness and jest is perfect: slugs, fucking slugs (and other related beasts). Add in the wild artwork, and the package is complete… along with all the concomitant expectations for what slug-themed metal should sound like. It’s unfortunate, sometimes, that these expectations exist in the first place: ultimately, they color your interpretation of the music. On the other hand, there is the joy derived from breaking them. This too can be leveraged for artistic benefit, and Slugdge bank on it. Like the heartfelt bass intro to “Crop Killer,” Esoteric Malacology oozes with lifelike qualities: ever undulating, squirming, festering, bubbling. Then, though, it attacks hard and fast, taking stabs with layered riff after riff — and solo after solo — of guitar magic. Eerie and aquatic, the album gets headier as it gets deeper: rhythm-heavy choruses transition seamlessly into verses and asides while overarching melodies tie the segments together. The semi-operatic, clean-sung vocals add an avant-garde and organic touch. And yep, there are moments to headbang too.

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