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Technical Ecstasy #6: The Talents of Tech-Death

technical ecstasy
Illustration by Levi DeMatteo

In this column, I delve 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.

Bonus: We’re featuring a sick new header illustration by Levi DeMatteo. It suits this edition of Technical Ecstasy especially well.

Last go-around, I mentioned that future iterations of this column would branch further out from technical death metal (which we typically just call “tech-death”) and its various satellites. Apparently, I failed to foresee the impetus behind this edition’s focus: it’s the end of the year, and I have spent an inordinate amount of the past 11+ months listening to, well, goddamn tech-death. Sure, I listen to plenty of other super-technical music, but sometimes a juicy tech-death album satisfies me only like grandma’s cooking can. I wanted to honor that intoxicating inner impulse by showcasing three tech-death albums from 2018 which I found most impressive given the bands’ prior work and the (sometimes unfairly tough) expectations set by this particular scene.

My point with these three albums is this: it’s not so easy being so good at your instrument, apparently. Maybe the better you are, once you hit a certain point at least, the more difficult it is to create engineering-as-artwork versus artwork-as-engineering. Almost as if your tools were too advanced, or your skills too unhinged, to really let you access the source of your inspiration for creating music. Conversely, those advanced tools can be used for exactly that: finding the soul behind the architecture, discovering the meaning behind the madness, and uncovering the mental blockages which result in stale content. It all plays out like drama in the music itself, creating tension even. Will the instruments win, or the people playing them?

The bands below all won at their own game, as far as I’m concerned. They each created bespoke (albeit contextual) and outrageous (albeit cohesive) tech-death albums which stand out with individual style and flair — they each executed on their ideas with watchmaker precision, and they each found the core essence of their sound only to go and have a total blast with it. This is serious tech-death for sure, but by no means is it boring or plain: these three albums champion raw energy over mindless complexity. This genre has a knack for producing sterile music; here, these bands ramp up the stimulation tenfold to offset any chance of that happening. Call it an extreme approach, or just call it tech-death as it should be.

(I would’ve added Exocrine’s incredible Molten Giant to this list, but alas, I had written about it last time. Feel free to leave your favorites below in the comments.)

Irreversible MechanismImmersion
September 14, 2018

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Immersion is my favorite tech-death album this year, mostly because it’s the one with the most style. It’s really hard to compare technical skills, and also pointless — talking about style might be pointless too, but at least style freshens the music and enhances the listening experience. And by “style,” I’m pointing to the creative fun of Irreversible Mechanism’s hyper-technical music and the smoothness of its delivery. To that end, this band departed significantly from their prior album and debut Infinite Fields — while that album is a good, hard-hitting tech-death album, it’s not really a special or very humanized tech-death album. This new one is, though.

Mostly due to a stellar vocal performance by band frontman Ilya Studenok (and if you watch the music video above, he’s got some creative moves too), Irreversible Mechanism feels nothing like a mechanism at all. What’s more, the guitar riffing, drumming, and basswork feel constructed around not their mechanical synchrony but rather their emotional intensity. Immersion‘s songs are mega-complicated structures, yes, but also simple and sharp rises and falls in emotional intensity; that’s what helps define them, and then the album as a whole. Think of it as more story-like than an instruction manual (there’s actually a good chunk of this album, too, which departs from tech-death for something more abstract). Think of it as something to experience rather than just listen to.

InferiRevenant
April 20, 2018

The much-awaited follow-up to 2014’s The Path of Apotheosis delivered on all expectations and more, as far as I’m concerned — with newfound symphony, melody, and technicality, Inferi has offered up nine mega-fresh tracks (one of which features Trevor Strnad) of Very Well Executed tech-death. There’s a special blackened twist, too, which hones the band’s approach to the tenets of tech-death (but by no means defines it). One could make the argument that all tech-death is progressive — either way, Inferi hasn’t set out to reinvent all the rules as bending them sometimes works even better. The result is music which immediately feels familiar but still has a sharp edge.

Tech-death bands play robotically fast, almost by necessity — for Inferi, it feels like fast is a passion instead. There are micro-busts on Revenant which impress with both their explosiveness and level of execution; there are also moments where speed dies and balladic and heavily synthed melodies take over. Speed is relative, of course, and showcasing both fast and slow can accentuate both terminals of the spectrum. The drumming is key here, obviously, acting both as pacemaker and glue for the many complex parts so cleverly arranged. Despite the machine-like nature of Revenant, its appropriately hyperbolic emotional ascents and descents make it feel so much more human.

AuguryIllusive Golden Age
March 30, 2018

Illusive Golden Age was the first Augury album in almost a decade, and the wait was worth it, even if patience wore thin. The entire album feels like one long upward ramp toward technical ecstasy with its ever-building mood and dreamstate emotions (the penultimate track “Parallel Blospheres” acts as the album’s climax, and it’s a heavy one). The band’s technicality has never been on such vivid display, but nor has it ever been so baked into the meat of a single album: it’s the rhythm, mood, and sense of triumphancy that moves you to this music, not the insane instrumentation. But it’s the instrumentation which makes it all possible, especially the dazzling intricacy of their noise as it bounces around inside your skull.

I dare to say that Illusive Golden Age is “pretty,” mostly because it’s so goddamn aggressive. But songs like “Anchorite” and “Message Sonore” cause me to second-guess: those two in particular are where Augury are most suave about their fury. With their silky undulations and transitions, they seem to pirouette while demolishing instead of reaching for the sledgehammer and case of beer. Make no mistake, though, Illusive Golden Age breaks shit, especially when loud: while thoroughly blended into the album’s structure, breakdowns and crunchy, repetitive chugs are ever-present in just the right dosage. Can’t live without ’em.

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