Is there another label that’s been pumping out technical and brutal death metal longer or better than Unique Leader Records? The answer is an emphatic no, and it is for this reason that I couldn’t think of a better way to resurrect Oodles of Brutals than to round up pretty much everything the long-running label has released so far in 2016 and write mini reviews of all of it. So without any further ado…
Ahtme – The Demonization
Apparently this band used to be called The Roman Holiday and while I’m glad they ditched that terrible name, I don’t really understand why they opted to rename themselves after a settlement in Estonia. Or maybe Ahtme is some sort of weird, made-up mash-up of “at me,” as in “Come ahtme bro!” Then again, maybe my research is lazy and I’m full of shit. Whatever the case, Ahtme plays tech death with some deathcore tendencies and unfortunately there really isn’t much to say about them beyond that. Sure, their playing is proficient, the production is thick and the guitars are sufficiently crushing, but the band does absolutely nothing to differentiate itself from the hordes of other bands out there playing the exact same shit. Of course, given that The Demonization is their first album and all the band members look to be about twelve years old in the photos I’ve seen, Ahtme have plenty of years left to figure out their sound and hone in on what makes them unique. It seems that Ahtme have all the tools, they just need to dig deep and put more of themselves into their work going forward.
Arkaik – Lucid Dawn
I feel like Arkaik may fall into the category of “opening band I skipped” at some point in my concert going career (was it the Cannibal Corpse / Exhumed tour from several years back?). In listening to Lucid Dawn, it appears that Arkaik are more than capable of writing sturdy, catchy and occasionally atmospheric tech death, but I can’t help but feel that they’re a bit too middle of the road in their approach; their musicianship doesn’t strike me as wild enough to fully appeal to the tech death crowd, yet they’re too squeaky clean sounding to fully appeal to the brutal death metal crowd. These guys play the shit out of their instruments and the production is top notch on Lucid Dawn, however it seems that the quartet haven’t quite captured that difficult to quantify “it factor” needed to elevate them to the next level. If this album is anything to go by, Arkaik has a potentially bright future ahead of them, but the band needs to fully commit to either dazzling musicianship or pummeling brutality.
Dawn of Demise – The Suffering
Denmark isn’t the first country I think of when it comes to brutal death metal, in fact it isn’t even the fiftieth. If Dawn of Demise’s The Suffering is anything to by, there’s a reason for that. This band is about as run of the mill as this shit gets. They aren’t the heaviest band or the most technical band or the most brutal band, and it’s this middling quality that makes a three minute song like “Destined to Suffer” feel twice as long, and not in a good way. In listening to The Suffering you’d never guess that Dawn of Demise are four albums deep into their career; at this point in the game there’s no excuse for this kind of faceless mediocrity. I’m not a fan of burying hard-working bands who no doubt love what they do, but there is literally no reason for this album to exist. Sorry guys.
Deceptionist – Initializing Irreversible Process
Italy, the country that gave us Fleshgod Apocalypse, Hour of Penance and Illogicist, strikes again with Deceptionist. This Roman quartet plays straight-up tech death with occasional electronic flourishes, though they don’t incorporate these influences as thoroughly as say, Sickening Horror or Across The Swarm. Deceptionist’s sound on Initializing Irreversible Process is cold and clinical, which matches the subject matter and the aforementioned electronic touches, giving the album a cruel, mechanical feel throughout its thirty three minute run-time. While I enjoy this album, I wish that Deceptionist would dive even deeper into the electronic/industrial side of things, as the band is at their best when they fully incorporate these elements into their songs, as on “Irreversible Process” and “Industrivolutionaction,” and if there is one thing this style of death metal needs, it’s more futurism, as opposed to just rehashing Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus riffs ad nauseam.
First Fragment – Dasein
I’ve noticed quite a few of my fellow reviewers going apeshit over this Canadian quintet, which shares a guitarist with Chthe’ilist, Serocs and Zealotry, and given First Fragment’s musical prowess, I can definitely see why they’re getting so much attention in the underground. These guys bring the notes, lots and lots of notes on their debut full length Dasein, and while I too am impressed with their musicianship, the whole thing is just a bit too uplifting and happy sounding to me, and at times sounds a little too much like video game music for my liking. Basically, First Fragment sounds like what would happen if Dragonforce ditched their many layers of cheese and morphed into a tech death band. This is not meant as a knock on the band, it’s just not my cup of tea, though I can see why lots of folks would want to eat this the fuck up. Dasein is easily the most musically stunning album in this entire round-up, but for me personally it is hampered by way too much emphasis on the power of widdly-widdly positivity, as well as suffering from a somewhat one dimensional vocal performance.
Inherit Disease – Ephemeral
Ok, now this is a step back in the right direction. Ventura, CA’s Inherit Disease play just the kind of ugly, disgusting-sounding brutal death metal that I love. Whereas many of the albums featured in this roundup suffer somewhat from being overly produced, Ephemeral sounds fucking gross in the best way possible, like getting slimed by one of the weird alien slug-things that adorn its cover art. All the instruments are audible, yet there’s still a certain gritty, grimy quality to the album that’s a much needed respite after listening to all these tech bands with squeaky clean production. Vocalist Obie Flett’s grunts and gurgles only serve to add to the album’s grotesque sonics; one can only assume that noises emanating from his throat are very much akin to the noises those aforementioned space slugs make while they’re eating you alive. This is my first exposure to Inherit Disease, but Ephemeral is easily one my favorites out of this massive stack of Unique leader releases. I know I said earlier that brutal death metal and tech death could benefit from more futurism, but let’s face it, Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation worship can still be fun as hell when done properly, and Inherit Disease prove it in spades.
Internal Suffering – Cyclonic Void of Power
Originally formed way back in 1996, Internal Suffering are the OGs of this roundup, and their years of experience are made readily apparent by the airtight playing and economical songwriting on Cyclonic Void of Power, their fifth album overall and second under the banner of Unique Leader. Indeed, most of the songs here hover around the three minute and thirty second mark, and the entire album clocks in at around forty minutes, which means there is nary a wasted note to be found here. Internal Suffering keep the tempo set to ludicrous speed for much of the album, and this combined with a claustrophobic production scheme make for a listening experience that is at times quite overwhelming. But don’t let the uniformly blistering pace of the music fool you into thinking that Cyclonic Void of Power is a blur of brutality; the band keeps things surprisingly varied, not lingering on any one riff or musical passage for too long. This is definitely another one that fans of Suffocation and Dying Fetus will enjoy sinking their claws into; thick and meaty brutal death metal with just the right amount of technical prowess thrown in to keep things interesting. I have to admit though, I wish the guitars were a bit louder in the mix.
Katalepsy – Gravenous Hour
Of all the albums coming out on Unique Leader this year, Katalepsy’s third album was easily my most anticipated. You see, their 2013 masterpiece Autopsychosis was a planet smashing slab of heaviness and easily one of the best slamming brutal death metal albums to come out in the last five years. Unfortunately, that also means that follow up Gravenous Hour has a lot to live up to, and while Katalepsy is still heavy as a really, really, really heavy thing, this album just doesn’t strike me as being on the same level of all-out brutality as their previous effort. This is in no way meant to be a knock on the Moscow quintet, but I can’t help but be somewhat disappointed by the decreased emphasis on ignorant ginormo-slams in favor of a more straightforward brutal/technical death metal sound. That said, Katalepsy are still damn good at what they do and Gravenous Hour is an impressive album which will surely keep them near the top of the Russian brutal death metal scene, but this slight dip in quality means that they’re now in danger of having their reign as the country’s kings of slam being usurped by the likes of Abominable Putridity, Traumatomy and Disfigurement of Flesh.
Lord of War – Suffer
Oceanside, California’s Lord of War play deathcore, and while this style is typically pretty far from being my thang, I have to admit that these guys have got their chosen genre on lock. I don’t know that I’d ever choose to listen to them for pleasure, but I’d easily pick them over just about any other deathcore band I’ve ever heard if you were to put a gun to my head. What’s interesting about Lord of War is that they actually manage to insert some atmospheric flourishes and even hints of melody amongst the stomping breakdowns, and as is befitting a Unique Leader band, they’re far more technical than shit like Despised Icon or All Shall Perish. Production-wise, these guys sound like a million bucks and the songs themselves are debilitatingly heavy, making for a much more impactful listen than what this genre usually offers. In a just world, “the kids” would be all over these guys instead of crap like Carnifex, but it’s all a bit much for an old curmudgeon like me.
Omnihility – Dominion of Misery
Relentlessly fast, brutal and hyper technical death metal is the name of the game for Eugene, Oregon’s Omnihility. I mean good lord, just listening to the riffs on Dominion of Misery makes my hands cramp up. How do these guys play like that without their fingers falling off? However the heck they do it, it’s most definitely an impressive display of precision. But while there’s no doubt that Omnihility have some serious chops, the production is rather sterile, which at times robs the music of being as impactful as it could be. Furthermore, the album suffers from a lack of variation in the tempo department; sure it is incredible to hear human beings playing at these inhuman speeds, but after a while the initial shock and awe factor wears off and it all just sort of blends together. It isn’t that I dislike Dominion of Misery, I actually think its a pretty cool album. I just wish these guys would let off the damn gas every once in a while for more than a few seconds and let the songs breath, because it’s obvious that Omnihility are incredibly talented. They could also benefit from a more organic production scheme; granted, overproduction just sort of goes with the territory for modern brutal/tech death, but it’s evident that Omnihility are passionate about their craft, so it would be nice of the album’s sonics would allow some of that passion to shine through.
Omophagia – In the Name of Chaos
Out of the metric fuck-ton of brutal/technical death metal albums Unique Leader has put out this year, Omophagia’s In the Name of Chaos just might be the sleeper of the entire batch. I really haven’t seen this getting reviewed much elsewhere, but if you’re a fan of this shiz, trust me when I say that you owe it to yourself to seek out this band. Omophagia aren’t likely to set the world on fire with originality, but nonetheless this is easily one of the most proficiently crafted and downright enjoyable brutal/technical death metal albums I’ve heard in forever. The Swiss quintet have a knack for injecting their brutality with a healthy dose of melody and catchiness without being happy sounding, and their songwriting approach is surprisingly dynamic. So many brutal/technical death metal albums are frustratingly one dimensional, but that is definitely not the case with In the Name of Chaos; these guys have been honing their craft for a decade and it absolutely shows. Indeed, this album is front-to-back impeccably written, played, paced and produced, and there’s a legion of bands out there that could learn a thing or two from Omophagia. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Unmerciful – Ravenous Impulse
Ten years between albums is a goddamn eternity in the metal scene, and that’s exactly how long it’s taken Unmerciful to crank out their second album, Ravenous Impulse. Fortunately, the band is every bit as over-the-top brutal as you remember them being, augmented by a re-tooled lineup that now includes human drum tornado John Longstreth (ex-every metal band, ever). As I began listening to Ravenous Impulse, I kept expecting the band to let up at some point and give me a breather, but that is not the case; Unmerciful pummels you over the head with sonic cinder blocks for thirty-five minutes straight, letting off the gas for a few seconds here and there, but never letting up on the crushing brutality. I’ve seen some folks criticizing the production on this album, but for some reason I’m occasionally ok with brutal death metal that sounds soulless and mechanical (it works for certain bands for reasons I can’t quite explain), which is for the most part how this sounds, though it’s nowhere near as robotic as say, Abysmal Torment’s Cultivating the Apostate from a few years back or the Omnihility album discussed earlier in this piece. In fact this might be the most brutal album out of any of the releases reviewed here; Ravenous Impulse‘s relentless intensity and battering, clinical yet bottom-heavy production exemplify the genre in a way that few others can muster. No surprise that a band largely made up of ex-Origin guys delivered one of the best of the batch.
The Zenith Passage – Solipsist
Why are there so many tech death bands in California? This is surely one of the great metal mysteries of our time. Fortunately, Los Angeles’ The Zenith Passage do much to separate themselves from the masses on debut full length Solipsist. When was the last time you heard a tech death album with multi-part clean vocal harmonies? The Zenith Passage bust them out almost immediately, and while they’re not the greatest cleans you’re ever gonna hear, it’s definitely a surprise to hear them on an album like this. Like First Fragment, the band also has a tendency to slip into “metal that sounds like video game music” territory, though they aren’t nearly as cheesy about it as say, Rings of Saturn, or some of the other bands incorporating that influence… it’s weird to think that we’re now seeing a generation of death metal musicians who are as inspired by shit they played on Playstation or X-Box or whatever as they are by other metal bands. I could see fans of Fallujah getting into this, and while it’s not exactly my bag, I still respect the band’s efforts to do something different within the tech death realm. If they focus on these unique qualities and at the same time work on making the straight-up tech death passages a bit more distinctive, they might just be on to something.