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I have listened to this album probably over 50 times. I have tried to review it more than once, and at first I felt I did not know the songs long enough and did not have enough background information to know what the fuck these people were all about. It was quiet clear to me that we are dealing with a concept album folks, although the band did not specifically state that this is the case. However, I guess they are a concept band, kind of like Wormed and Ancient Necropsy, their specific concept being science fiction warfare and all sorts of terraformation and space conquest. Pretty neat, you can all put on your square rimmed glasses once again, because I know deep down inside all of you hard wrought musicians hell bent on technicality are music nerds. Tougher than your average, but you are still music nerds, so of course you will enjoy these themes of interplanetary conquest and alien planets and wars in deep space.
Now for the music. So the concept, as far as I can tell is about this weird half terraformed planet called Kronor VII. People migrate to here but then start a war, over what, we do not know, or at least I could not decipher. Then they make these giant sentinel type cyborg guardians (god damn these guys are nerdy) who keep thems afe and are supposed to ensure order, but then they realize, in fairly typical death metal fashion, that humans are the root cause of the problems, and as such they murder all of the people on Kronor VII. Don’t ask what happened to Kronors I-VI either, man, you would not want to know. Perhaps that will be the topic of a later album. I like the fact that they use Suffocation like brutal tech death to achieve their aims as well. Concept albums too frequently are done by black metal or pseudo-black metal bands, or by heavy/power metal bands and the concepts will be like, the search for Midgard or slaying some faggot ass dragon. I like the fact that they take a bit of sci-fi here, and they do it just as cheesy as the power metal guys, except the music is serious. It is not just a musical underpinning to the concept, it is fucking sweet tunes that would have been written separate of the concept as well, I am sure.
And what music it is! The vocals are the lamest aspect of this band, they are not bad, but aside form everything else in the band, they are far too typical. Sounds just like let’s say, Deeds Of Flesh or Hate Eternal, deep, gruff, one-sided vocals. They put a dot on the end of the sentence, but that is all, I am sure most fans will not find anything objectionable, but nothing really special either. The drumming is also in this category, but since we are talking tech death here, we have got one serious ass-kicking drummer here, none other than K.C. Howard of Odious Mortem, Decrepit Birth! He mostly just blasts along, but this is one of those drummers where even if he were to play nothing but a 2/4 Beatles beat, he could make even that sluggish bullshit sound killer. So with him constant blasting does not really mean that it is all that constant, because of his amazing overpowering drumming style. It is more of his earlier Decrepit Birth stuff we get here, but with larger emphasis on the constant double bass, cymbal patterns and lofty snare beats type rhythmic patterns. It is constant with hardly any breakdowns or tempo changes in this monkey, it is pummeling and the depth of technicality can only be sensed by the intricacy of the movements, and the weird little fills and trills that are thrown in. the guitars take the cake as they tend to with albums like these, they overpower everything else, even the awesome drumming, but are recorded very low in comparison to what a purpose they fulfill. The tone is nice and scratchy but relatively clean, and the low frequencies are frequently lost, but they have nice bass interludes and stops to emphasise those moments.
So my problem with this is the sound. sterile, dead pan, just no good for death metal. The recording quality and the sound, along with the medium size vocals are what make me give any less than a 100 on this album. Really everyone else deserves it, but it sounds almost midi, almost computer generated it is so overproduced. I just do not like this sterile, completely triggered, completely digital, no harshness, no grime attitude to recording. It is important in this type of death metal to have precision, and thus shitty recording gear is simply not an option, and I will even state how hard it is to get those hyper blasts and those 32nd notes heard without triggers, shit it is nearly impossible (I also play drums in tech death), and I do understand that they are hard to deal with. But it seems to me like this sound is cultivated on purpose, something that I cannot even fathom why anyone would do. I hope that this was just the product of a crappy sound engineer, or perhaps, just lack of money and time constraints, and in the future we will hear the real Element, and not before they freeze and haul it in on a slab of digital recording. My score reflects that optimism.
Technical death metal can be a really mixed bag. Often enough, bands who unite under such banners focus too much on creating deep, technical, progressive music that they forget to include other essential song writing techniques. Beneath the Massacre anyone? Or maybe their music does encompass distinguishable song writing efforts and yet still fails to maintain the listener's interest because, well, it's just far too technical for its own good. Martyr comes to mind in this case. But of course, not all tech death metal bands are bad. Take California's Element, for example. Formed in 2004, they've had some difficulties with their line-up (and they are currently searching for a new vocalist), but through all the uncertainty, waiting, recording, and promoting, Element has finally released its debut album, Aeons Past.
Similarly to the Jordanian-Polish band Ajdath, who I reviewed last week, Element combines chaotic guitars; low, distorted shouts; heavy drum presence; and a reliance on brutal, technical song arrangements to create their music. And just as Ajdath's Triangle of Death incorporates some of band leader Omar Al Kilani's native Arabic music into his violent, riff-driven work, Element incorporates subtle sci-fi influences into their writings, be it through quirky, yet enjoyable atmospheric elements, as can be heard in the title track, or through the riffing, as heard in the likes of the instrumental, Dying Sund Descent. To accomplish their vision, each band member (okay, the bass is somewhat low in the mix) has put forth a rather strong effort. Guitarists Mason Gregory and Chris Lozano play a large role in the music, crafting an intense barrage off riffs which manage to sound technical and progressive without sounding mechanical and pointless. Not to be outdone is studio drummer KC Howard, whose exceptional performances create an atmosphere similar to that of guitars. To say that they're rather effective and more than just a rhythmic device would be an understatement.
Only nine tracks long and 30 minutes in length, Aeons Past is not a long album. But Element makes the most of their seemingly brief debut run-time. Most of Aeons Past's tracks are around two-three minutes in length and this element, pardon the pun, works in their favour, as none of the songs feels as though they drag on for too long or do not have time to maximize their effect. The title track of Element's debut album, Aeons Past, is perhaps the strongest piece of writing here. Starting with a calm, atmospheric section which is carried by clean, quiet guitars and bass guitar, it not only changes up the flow of the record, but also creates an image quite similar to what can be found on the lonely, mysterious feeling album cover. From there it morphs into the destructive tech death metal action which I have come to love in the recent months, but if any moment from Aeons Past stuck out in my mind, it would have been that one. The album's second track, Kronor VII is another track where Element stand out. At 5 minutes 11 seconds, it is the longest song which Aeons Past has to offer, but despite the longer length it still manages to maintain interest as the shorter songs. It features great transition between guitars and vocals (handled by Mason on this album), and is one of the heavier songs and features each of the band's members in top form.
Overall, Aeons Past is a very well crafted technical death metal record. Short yet enjoyable, it manages to display each musician's talent without sounding pretentious or over done. Element's debut offering, it offers tech death metal with a bit of a sci-fi twist with songs like Cursed Through Time, Aeons Past, and Ethnologic Cybernetics. As far as debut albums go, Aeons Past might not be the finest you'll ever hear, but it is still a fine slab of death metal anyway you put it. Definitely check this out if you can and keep an eye out for Element.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)