Thursday 20 June 2024

ALBUM REVIEW: Fractal Generator, "Convergence"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 07/06/2024
Label: Everlasting Spew Records

“Convergence” CS//CD/DD//LP track listing:
1. Cryogenian
2. Convergence
3. Askesis
4. Ancient Civilizations
5. Obelisk
6. Ciphertext
7. Xiphoid
8. Algorithmic Pathways
9. Encephalon
The Review:

Fractal Generator return for a blackened tech death encounter of the third kind here. Much like the first two albums, this is of the sci-fi themed variety of the genre. The Canadian members, known only by binary code, have created a concept piece about new planets arriving in the current solar system and the album explores this idea.
There are some quirky elements here- choral vocals on “Ancient Civilizations”, synths here, there and everywhere- but there are also the expected elements; death growls, warp speed drums and a distinctly dystopian atmosphere. Since Pestilence introduced atmospheric instrumental link pieces, other bands in the death metal genre have followed suit with mixed results- but things are done very well here.
There are no separate instrumental tracks, but the band does set the tone for each track with interesting intros and a surprisingly lush palette of sounds features across the songs- as mentioned.

“Cryogenian” sets the tone- fast and furious, all other tracks offer sinister creeping dread, along with  the blasting- such as “Obelisk”. The passages of riffs in “Ciphertext” are sublime and elsewhere on the album, things are just as impressive. Once again, Fractal Generator have delivered an excellently written, played and produced example of how this type of extreme metal should be done.

This is for fans of the genre- of course- but is strongly recommended because of this fact. You won’t hear better this year.

“Convergence” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Deicide, "Banished By Sin"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 26/04/2024
Label: Reigning Phoenix Music

“Banished By Sin” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. From Unknown Heights You Shall Fall
2. Doomed To Die
3. Sever The Tongue
4. Faithless
5. Bury The Cross…With Your Christ
6. Woke From God
7. Ritual Defied
8. Failures Of Your Dying Lord
9. Banished By Sin
10. A Trinity Of None
11. I Am I…A Curse Of Death
12. The Light Defeated
The Review:

Deicide are, undeniably, one of the classic bands of the death metal genre. Even though their lyrical themes don’t really concern death, usually, and are instead often blasphemous tracts against him upstairs and his son.
Having made an absolute classic debut, followed it with three further classics in a row and then… seen out their Roadrunner Records contract (!), the band were rejuvenated briefly twenty years ago with “Scars of the Crucifix”, prior to the departure of the hulking Hoffman brothers. The band has then seen different line ups come and go, some great records (“Stench of Redemption”) some passable ones (“To Hell With God”, “Til Death Do Us Part”) and on a general level, has kept going. We are nearly 35 years into recorded output at this point. I remember Motorhead’s 25th anniversary and that, at the time, was almost unthinkable.
Does the world need another Deicide album? Does Glen Benton have anything left to say? Does Steve Asheim still want to write full length death metal albums in between going to the shooting range, smoking weed and lifting weights?!
Well, regardless of the answers to those questions, we have another Deicide album. The AI infused artwork may have caused some controversy, but it looks fine to me (I know, I know, I said that about the Pestilence art as well, so… art is in the eye of the beholder, or something). Firstly, the sound: it’s polished, machined, clear, slick… nothing like the debut. Not as individualistic as “Once Upon The Cross”. It sounds thoroughly modern- your views will be your own in that regard.
From “Unknown Heights You Shall Fall” sounds like Deicide circa 2024- everything professional, slick and in the right place. Benton still does the low and high double tracking, the instrumentation chugs and churns along. “Doomed To Die” offers more of the same, slick pacing and hooks. Across the forty minutes here, it really is business as usual. At 12 tracks, it’s two tracks too long, but that’s churlish talk.
My main issue with Banished By Sin” is that it is perhaps a little too safe, a little too familiar. Deicide have nothing new to say- they haven’t since 1997- but they have occasionally found better ways to say them. Some of their albums are better than others, some are more fiery, some less committed to the cause and so on. I found myself enjoying the atmospheric riffage intro of “Faithless” a lot more than the more run of the mill songs contained here, that’s for sure.
Yes, “Bury The Cross With Your Christ” is absolutely what you want from the band, while “Woke From God” offers up an excellent song title and excellent lead work- but you may have heard this all before.
The title track is great; classic rolling feel, lovely lead work, headbanging opportunities aplenty!
I suppose the album could be summed up by saying that if you have never heard Deicide but like death metal (?!) then you will like this. If you are a fully paid up Deicide fan, you’ll like this. If you are a fan of a few albums here and there- perhaps of the old school variety, you may be a little less sure. I’m in the latter camp, and to be clear there is absolutely nothing wrong with this record: all parts are present and correct.  They may never top “O.U.T.C.” in my eyes, but they are still ferocious and kicking against the Christians with bile. The fact that this album didn’t fully do it for me is my problem. Deicide, it’s not you- it’s me!

Band info: official || facebook || instagram

ALBUM REVIEW: Pestilence, "Levels of Perception"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length (Re-Recordings)
Date Released:26/04/2024
Label: Agonia Records

“Levels of Perception” track listing:

1. Horror Detox (re-recording)
2. Mvlti Dimensional (re-recording)
3. Mobvs Propagationem (re-recording)
4. Sinister (re-recording)
5. Dehydrated (re-recording)
6. Dominatvi Svbmissa (re-recording)
7. Land Of Tears (re-recording)
8. Necromorph (re-recording)
9. Deificvs (re-recording)
10. Twisted Truth (re-recording)
11. Sempiternvs (re-recording)
12. Ovt of the Body (re-recording)

The Review: 

Pestilence are one of the greatest death metal bands ever. The greatest death metal band from mainland Europe, certainly. They were progressive before others. They embraced the melding of genres when others wouldn’t or couldn’t. In Patrick Mameli, there exists a contradictory and bullish figure. A man capable of extreme music and music of extreme complexity and beauty. The martial arts enthusiast looks and lives like his music sounds; uncompromising, full on and intense. Make no mistake, Mameli is Pestilence in the same way that Lemmy was Motorhead or Dave Mustaine is Megadeth.

Re-recordings by bands of older materials are usually done for one or a couple of several reasons. It can be that the band was screwed by their label(s) and need to reclaim their own material. It can be to improve on the sonic quality- or lack thereof- of the original. It can be to re-work/re-imagine the songs and give a fresh reading to the fans.

Or it can be, simply, unclear. Much like the production and mix deployed across this set of 12 excellent pieces of music. While the Cavalera brothers can easily point to the lo-fi production values for their reasons to re-record “Morbid Visions” (fair enough) and Testament can put out “First Strike Still Deadly” as a kind of updated-smorgasboard of their earlier work, the fact is that Pestilence albums have always sounded, for the most part, excellent (criticisms for “Doctrine”s tuning and use of eight string guitars aside). “Consuming Impulse” still sounds raging to me. “Testimony of the Ancients” sounded great. “Hadeon”, decades later, is just crystal clear and beastly.

Mameli has served this up as a kind of re-recorded best of and as a compilation, I can’t fault the song choice.

Their latter-day work is expertly produced and written. Patrick Mameli is a musical visionary, no doubt. He is an innovator in the death metal genre and can be seen as a musical genius without living peer in the tech/prog/fusion-metal world. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that “Spheres” has been understood as a brilliant melding of death metal and jazz. Similarly, albums like “Hadeon” and “Exitivm” are just incredible; vicious, dissonant, atonal, strangely memorable and featuring inhuman dexterity from the musicians involved.

Let’s look to the music first: a version of “Dehydrated” from “Consuming Impulse” is here! Versions of “Land of Tears” and “Twisted Truth” from “Testimony…” are here. “Necromorph” from “Obsideo” is here… the track listing is eclectic and career spanning. A strong start.

“Horror Detox” from “Resurrection Macabre” kicks things off and is a vicious burst of death metal. “Sinister” from “Doctrine” is a real rager, as well. “Multi Dimensional” from “Hadeon” and “Mobvs Propogationem” from “Exitivm” are both really strong tracks. In fact, the song selection is great- I mean, all Pestilence albums are at the least good. Some are simply incredible.

I can confidently state this: the songs are excellent. The musicianship is jaw dropping at times. Some of the passages in tracks like “Land of Tears” blow my mind, thirty years plus after I first heard them. However, and this is a big however; the sound of this record does not compare- in any way- to the sound on any album I have mentioned so far.

When I first listened to the version of “Horror Detox” here, I thought it was a demo. It’s weirdly muffled and boxy. Through headphones, it sounds like everything is competing with everything else in the centre of your head. It almost has a mono like quality to the sound. This is at its most glaring when listening to it next to any competently produced/mixed/mastered album of the metal genre. I’d been listening back through the back catalogue prior to listening to this and when I finished “Hadeon”, I pressed play on this and… wow. It’s a huge step down and a real lo-fi shock to the system. It sounds like it hasn’t been mastered at all, such is the lack of brightness and lack of listenable sheen. It’s also quiet. Really quiet.

It really is the strangest thing, you get world class musicianship and material paired with the production values of an incompetent death metal band in the mid 90s- and I should know; I was in one.

The genesis of this album has been a troubled one- the controversy over the original AI art (I thought it was a cool cover, to be honest, but I appreciate the arguments for and against) and then the collective head-scratching as to why this exists. On a more positive note, once you are a few tracks in and have adjusted to the sound/mix/production, this is a very strong collection of songs.

Honestly, I can’t find fault. It’s not possible for me to pick a kind of ‘best of’ Pestilence comp, but I can’t really argue with the choices here. It’s 12 lessons in death metal mastery in just under 45minutes. No issues there. For a death metaller who has never heard Pestilence? I mean, they could start here- but they probably shouldn’t. Just stick on… any studio album. You’ll get quality all the way.

Here, you get great music, great playing and awful production- which is a gripe I feel almost churlish for making. Take “…AJFA” by Metallica as the most obvious example of this issue- a flawed experiment, a classic album, a terrible mix. BUT, that was an album that stood alone and had no peer. The material on “Levels of Perception” does have a peer- every song has been recorded, released and heard before and they are all excellent in their original form.

Maybe there is an over-arching concept here that I’m missing. Maybe Patrick is planning something, I just don’t know. As always though, don’t take my word for it. Have a listen for yourself.

If you do start here, I urge you to listen to the music and take the compositions on their own merits- forget the production and enjoy a masterclass in progressive death metal from a unique band. No other band sounds like Pestilence, they are a unique proposition. Let’s hope the forthcoming studio album of original material (“Portals”) gets everything right- not just the songs and playing. In conclusion, I recommend all Pestilence albums and advise anyone who has never heard the band to listen to them all. If you are a long-term fan, by all means pick this one up as well- but expect differences that you may not appreciate.

Band info: facebook