Contact Us

Technical Ecstasy: The Best in Virtuoso Death Metal

Illustration by Emily McCafferty
Illustration by Emily McCafferty

People think of technical [insert your subgenre here] metal as songs made by musicians for musicians. We’re talking metal wherein virtuoso musicianship is the primary focus: how fast, how complex, how mind-bending, etc. Something is lost when the focus shifts from how it sounds to how it’s played, especially when it comes to guitar. At that point, music transforms into mere demonstration, a performance, something to gawk at rather than absorb on a deeper level. But some technical-whatever albums overcome this dilemma through extra-clever songwriting and abundant hooks. Having a knack for the progressive (experimental) expression of those incredible mechanical skills always helps too.

The artistry in technicality flows from its limitlessness. With everything possible, if it isn’t novel, then it isn’t good. There is a glut of soundalikes, especially in tech-death. Tropes are allowed, but they have to be reinterpreted and repurposed; their definitions swung around in an opposition, challenging the status quo by demonstrating the unknown versatility of status quo itself. Proper technical metal need not be that technical, comparatively. It’s not an arms race. It’s how nifty you can be while performing at maximum capability within the bounds you set for yourself. That said, fluent guitarists are a dime a dozen. Creative guitarists cost much more for good reason, ones who can work with involved drumming and expansive vocals.

Three bands – Exocrine, Yugen, Samskaras – have released albums in 2017 – Ascension, Stillness Disturbed, Asunder – which together sum up the promising state of modern technical metal. The technicality here is bare, the music’s very substance, but it does not overpower elements of style, character, and mood. In fact, technicality creates these elements feet-first instead of sidestepping them. These albums are progressive, but not proggy. Fascinating, but not mind-numbing. Experimental, but familiar. Above all, they’re resolutely jammable, perhaps the most important counterbalance to the sterility of technicality.


Exocrine – Ascension

Technical death metal often suffers from over-mechanization, not the Fear Factory industrial type, but the Rings Of Saturn “programmed” type. When music feels like an algorithm, it loses its humanity. If you’re already technically skilled, making complicated arrangements is easier than making complicated arrangements make sense, musically. Exocrine runs with the alien/insect theme (in the vein of Neuraxis), a guiding principle to reign in the inherent nonsense of such numerous notes.

The band’s sophomore album Ascension coheres nicely even while toying with varying methodologies: speed thrashing, sweep picking, slamming and straight-up shredding. All the while, this album is pit-worthy, prime for moshing and leaving nothing to subtlety. Ascension fluxes continuously, as songs are heavily segmented. Ideas are experimented with in short bursts, and the listener plays a fun game of tag-along. With so much going on, thematics are key in keeping it under wraps. It also instills a sense of purpose.

Exocrine takes opportunities to get soft with gentle interludes, quieter song introductions, and interspersed post-processing effects, but they don’t dampen things with clean vocals or overt moodiness. Relying on its theme, Ascension remains foreign and mysterious throughout.


Yugen – Stillness Disturbed

Creativity involves novelty, and removing vocals from your music forces innovation but invites mechanization. Perhaps this is why instrumental metal turns some people off automatically. While Stillness Disturbed isn’t entirely instrumental (choir-like synth in the background, some protracted howling), it relies exclusively on its instrumentation for punch. A lot of instrumental technical metal feels like non-instrumental metal with the vocals cut, leaving a void usually left unfilled.

Are those actual bass licks we can hear? Yes, finally. Excellent technical metal must be groovy, beyond breakdowns or catchy riffing. Stillness Disturbed makes groove top priority: the guitar technicality departs from traditional shredding, balancing simpler chord ascensions/descents with insistent triplet patterns. Meanwhile, the drumming feels biological, and bass is audible underneath guitar-heavy sections, popping its head out through the mix on opportune occasion.

Yugen’s progressiveness comes from experimenting with non-traditional compositions and mechanics and then transforming them into an album’s (groovy) theme. Stillness Disturbed is all about cadence, rhythm and feel. It tones back on outright heaviness for ease of digestion, but retains the power to create significant body highs. It’s an interesting take on the Meshuggah-like approach.


Samskaras – Asunder

For a core take on technical metal, turn to Samskaras. Here, vocals steal some spotlight from the instrumentation, intermixing clean and scream for a more dynamic approach. This is a departure from similar bands to whom vocals were an afterthought or a box to be checked. Overall, this aids Asunder‘s digestibility. A human voice can go a long way in preventing coldness from setting in. This aids the familiarity of the music, often left by the wayside by bands who overly fear triteness.

The liberal use of blastbeats sets Samskaras apart from, say, Unearth, plus they don’t resort to breakdowns. A clear-cut ferocity and pithy song lengths imbue some grind-like qualities. They even had the balls to lift some Pantera lyrics on the final track, “Conqueror.” Normally this would be cringeworthy, but Asunder‘s overt confidence adds to its credit. If only this album was full-length we’d be able to see how themes were developed long-form. For its brevity, there is a great deal of content here.

For the most part crystal-cut, Samskaras are aware of the benefits of some discordance, especially when mated to technical drum fills. The riffing otherwise switches off quickly between tremolo and single-note progressions. As a result, Asunder is full-bodied, a plump and hefty package, despite not being downright heavy in the traditional sense. Technical metal usually doesn’t make the best workout music (your focus wouldn’t be dedicated to the myriad of notes), but this album is an poised exception.

Recent News

Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing VIP profile. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to using your original account information.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

(Forgot your password?)

Not a member? Sign up here

Sign up for Invisible Oranges - The Metal Blog quickly by connecting your Facebook account. It's just as secure and no password to remember!