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As a recent affair concerning a Malaysian airliner has seen fit to demonstrate, people are drawn towards conspiracy theories. I mean, they really seem to love them. Perhaps it’s simply a veiled extension of the Romantic prerogative to seek a break from the mundane. After all, an otherwise tragic loss of human life becomes much more exciting (and easier to cope with) the moment aliens or transdimensional portals are mentioned. In any case, Embryonic Devourment have made it their mission with Reptilian Agenda to spread the word of some of the more nefarious conspiracy theories out there. Death metal as a genre has often sought to evoke graphically violent or morbid imagery as a means to reflect some aspect of reality we might have been blissfully ignorant of, and Embryonic Devourment’s third album is no exception. Is Reptilian Agenda meant to be approached as some reflection of fear or doubt in modern society, or are the scheming aliens mentioned herein meant to be taken at their face value? Whatever the case may be, Embryonic Devourment certainly have the technical chops and tightness to make the formula work, although patchy songwriting and rough pacing issues still serve to hold the band back.
Reptilian Agenda barely scales the half-hour mark, but feels a fair bit longer, mostly due to the amount of ideas and riffs Embryonic Devourment cram into their music. Burstfire rhythms, classically-influenced shred leads and a thick bass presence all solidify Embryonic Devourment’s place in the canon of tech death, although there’s a more organic and fluid tinge to their execution than many of the genre’s modern-day flagships. First and foremost, Embryonic Devourment can and should be recommended as a riff-oriented band. Although it’s usually the fierce and much-audible basswork of Austin Spence that catches my ear the most here, Reptilian Agenda is almost entirely driven by a sequence of individual guitar ideas. I’m far less reminded of songwriting in the traditional sense; with little exception, each of the eight tracks here feels like a sequence of vicious ideas that barely complement each other. A mid-paced chug might devolve into a slower lead or technical rhythm; there’s plenty of dynamic here, but Embryonic Devourment haven’t seen fit to make the ideas work together as a whole. It feels like the obvious result of a band that was far too fixated on writing riffs, without regard to how they would come together as a final product. The only time where a strong sense of purpose or direction emerges is during the second half of “Suffer the Seas of Gore”, in which the band focuses in on a brilliant idea and develop steadily upon it. Harmonic notes aplenty, an eerie tension begins to sweep over, and it feels like the band has found patience enough to realize an idea’s full potential. Sadly, it’s an anomaly in the album. The rest of Reptilian Agenda is usually too busy or impetuous to create atmosphere like that, but “Suffer the Seas of Gore” at least demonstrates that Embryonic Devourment have the ability to integrate structure well into their formula.
Thankfully, the focus and attention to technically proficient and aggressive riffs pays off for the most part on Reptilian Agenda. Although there’s no getting over the disjointed composition, Embryonic Devourment sound ridiculously tight as a band. Their musical ideas see fit to challenge the bass guitarist and drummer as well; it’s disappointingly uncommon to see a tech death band apply the ‘tech’ part to the entire band, and Embryonic Devourment certainly succeed in giving their performance balance in that regard. While the vocals are the least impressive ingredient, there is a rare variety and dynamic in the vocalists’ performance. Austin Spence and Lauren Pike deliver a range from your genre-expected gutturals to howls and higher-pitched rasps. The music is generally too frenetic to allow the vocals for much of an emotional effect (if any was possible in the first place) but the decision to vary up the vocals ultimately works in their favour.
The lyrics here read like a would-be conspiracy theorist’s cookbook. A lyrical excerpt here might read like the paranoid scrawlings you might read in a public washroom, and that’s not even necessarily a bad thing in this case. More often than not, Embryonic Devourment point the finger towards the titular Reptilian race, whom you’ve probably heard about if you keep up with ufology or The X-Files. If not, it’s enough to explain them as sneaky, slimy, and seemingly molded to fit death metal lyrics. As the strong album cover would seem to indicate, most of the conspiracies surrounding these reptilians have to do with them shapeshifting into roles of power in human society. Embryonic Devourment’s interpretation of this falls somewhere in between the graphic lyrics of early death metal canon, and the term-dropping verbosity often found in modern tech death. For what it’s worth, there is intention and intelligence in Embryonic Devourment’s lyrics; for what they lack in subtlety or depth, the subject matter is handled relatively well, and it’s certainly more interesting than the medical-definition technobabble most technical death metal bands are going for these days.
Reptilian Agenda is an impressive record in several ways, and it’s clear that Embryonic Devourment knew what they were doing going into their third album. Vicious riffs, fluid production and interesting subject matter all serve to distinguish the band from their more generic peers. All the same, it’s nigh-impossible to ignore the sense of empty satisfaction felt from the lack of structure suffered here. A skilled warrior is nothing in a battle if not for the soldiers at his side, and so it applies to the writing on Reptilian Agenda.
Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical: www.heathenharvest.org/embryonic-devourment-reptilian-agenda
Furthering their aural assault on the unsuspecting masses, Californian brutal tech death outfit Embryonic Devourment return with their third full length album, Reptilian Agenda. If there's one thing I've come to learn about this band, it's that they are anything but subtle on all accounts: musically and lyrically. Reptilian Agenda again showcases Embryonic Devourment's ability to merge the virtuoso instrumentation and speed of technical death metal with the utter skull crushing, bowel imploding heaviness of brutal death metal.
Once again, the band's lyrical concepts deal with the vast reptilian overlord conspiracy theory: one in which a race of reptilian extraterrestrials have been interbreeding with humans and slowly creating a sub-reptilian army of sorts. All of the persons of consequence are already under reptilian control: business owners; politicians; clergy; basically the world is being run by this race of lizard-like beings. Also tying in with the reptilian conspiracy is the killer artwork depicting one of these reptile overlords wearing typical clergy garb, brandishing a cross and a book, standing in front of a burning pyre with scattered bones lying at the base of the fire. Utterly fantastic album art that captures the band's style and concept perfectly.
What is immediately recognizable is the strong production. Rather than the typical surgical cleanliness of tech death production or the utterly bass heavy, yet oftentimes flat production of brutal death metal, Reptilian Agenda is clean where it needs to be, allowing the intricate bass patterns to shine without drowning on the guitars and allows the drums to be disturbingly fast and heavy without washing out the rest of the music. Mixing and mastering was handled by Colin Davis (guitarist of Vile), so it shouldn't be a surprise that the production is as solid as it is.
Musically, Reptilian Agenda picks up where the band's previous full length, Vivid Interpretations of the Void left off. Like I said, this shows the band merging punishing brutal death metal rhythms with the technicality of speed of technical death metal. Embryonic Devourment has a tendency to be able to have the rhythm section play one tempo and have the guitars switch tempos without sounding like a mishmashed heap of garbage. Listen to the constant timing changes on “Bloodgift” for example as the blasting drums consistently change patterns and tempos, while the bassist constantly walking the fretboard, all the while the guitarists are belting out tech death licks and palm muted chord progressions. It's chaos, but it's a controlled chaos. Once again, all of the musicians are completely on fire. The drums are constant double bass runs complemented by blast beats and technical fills; and, like the guitars, the drummer has this incredible ability to change tempos at whim while keeping the sound smooth as butter. The bass is thick and punchy, similar to what most brutal death bands utilize (I mean good brutal death bands), but there are enough fills and fret walks to keep any technical aficionado happy. The vocals are mostly deep, guttural growls, typical of brutal death metal. Thankfully they opt for the growls, rather than the ridiculous belches and gurgles that some go for. There are occasional higher pitched screams rising from background, which keep the deeper vocals from getting too one dimensional.
The true standout, like on Vivid Interpretations of the Void, are the incredible guitar lines. The guitars are basically in their own world here. The drums and bass blast away while the guitars play a completely different tempo, but it sounds smooth and natural. The leads and solos are impressive, like during “Reptiliphiliac”, which calls to mind the likes of Decrepit Birth's recent work. Each track seems to have standout moments with the lead guitars, but it's like a whirlwind. Just when you get into a guitar line, the band switches gears and hits you with a different riff. Typically, this type of constantly evolving music gets a little overbearing, but Embryonic Devourment are able to keep flowing and cohesive. The biggest change on Reptilian Agenda, perhaps, are some solid headbanging grooves thrown into the mix, like during “Challenging All Forms of Hope”, utilizes a palm muted groove which builds into blasting brutal death. “Suffer the Seas of ...” also showcases a solid amount of groove in the middle as the guitars once again delve into palm muted chord progressions with melodic licks at the tail of the riff. Yes,yes, they are plenty of melodic fills and licks, like the beginning segment of “Sealed With Resin”.
There are only a few downsides on this album, and honestly, I'm just being a bit nitpicky. The gnarled screams towards the end of “Masonic Angeldust” sound extremely forced and out of place. “Whilst the Rich Dine” suffers from forced shouts and sounds rather strangled towards the end of the track. The band utilizes a few sound samples throughout, which kind of detract from the intense instrumentation, although they don't sound bad. Despite these few small criticisms, this is a blistering slab of brutal tech death of the highest caliber.
Reptilian Agenda is a solid follow up to the band's previous work. If you're into tech death and brutal death, then you need to hear this. Embryonic Devourment's latest offering should please fans of Defeated Sanity, Decrepit Birth and the like. This is definitely a band to watch out for, as they have everything they need to get big in tech death circles. The reptilian overlords are hiding, watching and planning: make sure you know what you're up against. Reptilian Agenda is blasting, fast paced music for those who would like their tech death to have some balls, not some sterile, neutered carbon copy.
Written for The Metal Observer: