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Amid the ever expanding field of bands trying to one-up Suffocation/Cryptopsy in the tech./brutal department is a formerly up and coming turned hiatus ridden outfit from Germany known as Necrophagist. Dating back to the early 1990s, where this approach to death metal was more or less unheard of, one can't help but give a certain leeway to this band given that they were onto something that was considerably fresh and new, before it had been adopted by the likes of Arsis, Decrepit Birth or Braindrill. Then again, circa 2004 when their mixed reaction garnering sophomore effort "Epitaph" was put out, the notion of gratuitous guitar shredding, high octane blast and thrash beats meshed with a garbled growling style inspired by Frank Mullen was becoming quite commonplace. So the first question that one might ask is, does this album manage to stand tall amongst a crowded field?
The answer is sort of, as the intended goal of this approach to metallic fury tends to focus more on impact and impressing shred enthusiasts, rather than putting forth something that is easily recalled. In much the same respect as the quirky, progressive character exhibited by Decrepit Birth and, to a similar extent, death/thrashers Revocation, "Epitaph" functions through the lens of frequent variation, shifting tempo and feel quite often, to the point of sounding the same throughout to the average ear. Differentiation between parts doesn't really function between songs, in spite of their relatively short lengths, but through contrasting sections within songs and how they might differ from that of another song during a similar section. A longer song such as "The Stillborn One" differs from a shorter number like "Stabwound" more in how long it takes to get down to the blast sections, but they generally always occur at a very similar tempo and usually keep going for an extended, albeit indeterminate amount of time.
Indeed, this approach to varied parts depending on length of song actually works to an extent in differentiating things, but it tends to accomplish this while still losing the listener in a sea of technical showboating. In much the same respect as the widely hailed Cryptopsy, longer songs will usually entail a greater amount of guitar shredding or technically impressive bass fills rather than compelling melodic development. To be clear, songs such as "Ignominious & Pale" and "Diminished To B" are not devoid of melodic content, but the ideas tend to run together and are often so obscured by frequent and elaborate changes and variation. An occasional bridge or interlude section such as the Cynic-influenced jazz break at the end of "Only Ash Remains" will stick out in the memory (actually, this song can be seen as a standout in that the sheer amount of technical interchanges between bass and guitar lines outdoes the rest of the album), but largely this sails through the system in about the same time as a helping of pork fried rice would.
One redeeming factor about most albums that tend to go overboard in the showboating department is that they will tend to have one element of simplicity and constancy to hold it all together, and this is found in the vocal approach of Muhammed Suiçmez. In fairly similar fashion to the uniform barks of Corpsegrinder, and in contrast to the frequent shriek character change approach of Lord Worm that is exaggerated to the point of parody in many modern death metal bands, Muhammed's growls are punchy and constant, almost to the point of being monotone, which proves to be a welcome contrast to the barrage of ideas being thrown about by the instrumental elements. Unfortunately this doesn't fully make up for an approach to songwriting that is just a little too elaborate for its own good, and it becomes pretty easy to lose track of where one is in the album despite it being just barely over 30 minutes long.
This album is decent by standards of mid 2000s technical death metal, but it doesn't quite measure up to the brilliant early works out of Arsis. A would be virtuoso bassist or guitarist will be taken in by a lot of what is found on here, but this doesn't really have an irresistible appeal that would rope in most rank and file metal lovers looking for a good song to wreck their necks to, as the 8 different compositions found on here don't really function as songs, but more like demonstrations. Nevertheless, those seeking to be thrilled by sheer impact rather than by a cogent presentation will find something worth hearing.