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Get rid of the vocalist already. - 57%

Visionary, September 20th, 2009

Technical Death Metal has been a heavy trend the last few years. My problem with these bands is that so many of them focus so much on being technical that there are virtually no song structures and the whole thing sounds a mess. Psycroptic manage to not fall into this problem and retains a solid structure throughout numerous tempo changes and technical guitar playing. The production is thankfully not overtly clean and retains a slight murkiness in the guitar tone. However the production falters a fair bit with the drums. The drum triggers sound extremely clicky and there is quite a lot of blasting. Why so many bands go for this obnoxious sound is beyond me. It just sounds flat, and mechanical and only hurts the music. I want to hear the bass! I especially don’t understand it in Psycroptic’s case as they went for a slightly more organic production than the typical mechanical ones of technical death bands. The other major gripe I have is the hardcore shouts. There is some use of guttural growls but about 95% of the time they are just your standard Hatebreed tough-guy shouts, and a pretty poor imitation at that. The vocalist here just sounds like he is straining to hard and almost choking his voice out. Occasionally the vocals are just squealing that should be kept strictly to Deathcore. Keep this crap out of Death Metal! Fortunately there are large sections of the music without the use of vocals.

It is a shame that there are these issues, as the band is clearly comprised of excellent musicians. They play very well and sweep in and out of tempo changes with ease. The riffs are very good and memorable for the most part. The leads get a little chaotic at times, which is what one would expect from technical death metal but do not go overboard and keep the songs focused. One of the finest guitar performances I have heard and is certainly the best thing going on here by a long shot.

Overall this is not something I can keep listening to simply because of the hardcore vocals and clicky sounding drum triggers. The drum triggers I could probably get over but those vocals are so bad that I just can't enjoy the excellent musicianship. It is a mighty shame though as everything else is top notch.

A triumph for the brothers Haley, but... - 65%

DarthVenom, January 21st, 2009

I really want to like this record.

So the Tasmanian devils are back with their fourth full-length. This was my first exposure to their new lineup, and the taste it left in my mouth was…disappointing, in a word.

Joe Haley could possibly be my favourite guitarist from the land down under; his playing seamlessly blends impressive but unpretentious technicality with the strength and driving power that a genre like death metal demands from its performers. It’s his licks and riffs that shine throughout this album, giving me a reason to spin it occasionally or to pay attention when its songs come up on shuffle. It’s because of Haley’s unwavering devotion to laying down those consistent, frenetic riffs, flowing into each other like a choppy but powerful sea, that this record is worthy of the Psycroptic name. The other Haley brother pounds away on the skins with a hair trigger, keeping up with any time changes with mechanical precision. It does well for the robotic lyrical themes of the album. Had this been an instrumental album, I’d have slapped it with at least a 75 or something: not fantastic, but good to spin once in a while.

And then there’s the elephant in the corner: mister Jason Peppiatt. Forgive me for this bit of vitriol, for we’ve discovered the Gene Adam of death metal: sure, there’s probably worse singers out there in the respective field, but to imagine that a band as big as Psycroptic can get away with this…good lord. In fairness, he’s tolerable when he’s grunting along with a standard growl. But when he attempts to hit the high notes, he just sounds like he’s trying to do a bad Jon Nödtveidt impression. Don’t even get me started on the garbled mid-tone shouting that sounds less like a death metaller and more like someone trying to alert the immediate company to perform the Heimlich maneuver since they’re choking on a log of meat.

And he doesn’t. Shut. Up. Most of the time I’m trying to enjoy Haley’s blazing riffs, and keep getting thrown out of it because of this warbler and his incessant vocal lines. It’s not even that he’s not an appropriate replacement for Chalky, one of the most inhuman-sounding and diverse vocalists I’ve ever heard; it’s that he’s just not a competent vocalist at all. The ghost of Matthew Chalk is sure to dog this band, but even when you look at this album as a standalone piece, Peppiatt just doesn’t work. There are moments where he’s tolerable, like when he’s just ordinarily growling, and a few times when he takes that mid-tone shout and distorts it a step further. If by any odd chance he’s reading this, my advice is to focus on those strengths and build your way up from there. But if Peppiatt was the best out of the pool they auditioned to replace Chalky…I really don’t want to know what that says about the ones who didn’t make the cut.

Apologies for ranting like this, but it needs to be said: I don’t have high standards when it comes to my vocalists, so long as they fit the music. Elvenking, Megadeth, Motorhead: all bands that produce good music and have a good vocal/instrumental synthesis because their singers compliment the music, despite a marked lack of raw technical singing talent – at least, as far as I know. But Peppiatt is literally, for lack of a better term, abrasive: when you’re trying to listen to the riffs, his grating barks can actually be painful, both in their texture and overall amateurism. Right – I’m done roasting Peppiatt. He has potential to be a good vocalist, but as it stands, he’s tolerable in his best moments.

As for the lyrics, it’s a minor point, but I rather miss the fantasy/narrative style of the early Psycroptic. It doesn’t like we’ll be visiting any more Lacertine Forests or picking up any more ancient Scepters with these Aussies, and it’s a shame – those were some damned good lyrics, as opposed to the far more ambiguous lines on this album, and helped for what it was worth to give the old stuff an extra degree of flavour.

And the production is slick like a water slide. Normally I appreciate good production values, but it’s all context-sensitive, and all bands should produce their albums in a way that benefits their style of music. Case in point, the guitar tone on the latest Nightwish record is crunchier than what’s on display here. If your pop-focused symphonic metal has a heavier crunch than your technical tech metal, something may have screwed up somewhere. It’s not a terrible thing, but just something to watch out for.

But I can’t bring myself to give this album a failing score, because dammit, they’re playing their asses off and really trying – and the results are sometimes quite good. Blood Stained Lineage and Initiate in particular are packed with solid riffs, clever structures and tolerable vocal moments that, I will grant, don’t detract from the music. Unfortunately, the music here lacks a lot of the identity that made inventive numbers like The Valley Of Winds’ Breath And Dragons Fire so memorable. Instead, the songs are far more samey. That’s not intrinsically a terrible thing, though: when Peppiatt lets the guitar take the lead, the songs are fairly enjoyable either way, like the mid-paced crusher of a riff that comes in halfway through Removing The Common Bond.

Psycroptic fans owe it to themselves to check this for the instrumental prowess on display – just be warned about the abrasive, and not in the good way, vocalist. I almost feel sorry for him, to be honest: at his skill level, he’s really in over his head with a band like this. But I’d love for him to prove me wrong and churn out an absolutely spellbinding performance on Psycroptic’s fifth opus – after all, good vocals are good vocals, no matter who’s growling them out. Overall a solid effort brought down by some rather glaring aspects; try before you buy.

Props for the Metroid Prime-ish cover art, though.

*shrug* I can't think of a witty title for this'un - 70%

BastardHead, January 9th, 2009

Tasmania, home to the inbred fools that many Australians hold in contempt (it's comparable to how us Yankees hate the inbred southern states), and the Technical Death Metal group, Psycroptic. I'll admit, I haven't heard anything prior to this album, 2008's Ob(Servant), so I can't tell you if this is a step down or not. Their 2003 effort, Scepter of the Ancients, seems to be widely regarded as a masterpiece in the genre, and so that little tidbit was the only bit of information I had about the band when I saw Ob(Servant) at my local Best Buy. I looked at the cover and song titles, and made my deduction. I'm finding metal at Best Buy, this must mean it is rather clean on the production front, lest the mainstream outlets not carry it. The wacky song titles like "The Shifting Equilibrium" and "Removing the Common Bond" implied a similarity to Meshuggah in my eyes, as the lyrical themes of metaphysical nonsense seemed to apply heavily to both bands.

Thankfully, there isn't much about this that sounds anything like Meshuggah. The music consists of actual riffs here! The main issue is, on the other hand, that most of the content here amounts to little more than a faceless blur of blastbeats and pointless yelling. Let's get something straight, I love Death Metal, I love technicality in my music (although a lack of it won't make me complain at all), polished production doesn't bother me any more than crappy production, and I just overall enjoy aggressive, abrasive music. So don't interpret the previous statement as something a Dream Theater fan would use to criticize a band or anything. These guys can play their instruments quite proficiently, like most other metal musicians. And like most other metal musicians nowadays, they don't seem to use these talents to write good songs. Most tracks on Ob(Servant) blast their way through your speakers with minimal effort and maximal intensity, but none of it ever sticks with you. Music doesn't have to be catchy or hooky to be good, but there isn't much point in owning a disc that you'll only spin a few times per year. The worst part about the songs isn't the fact that they aren't memorable, but the fact that they're so fucking long for absolutely no goddamn reason. Many songs end with about a minute or two left in the track, and the space is filled with pointless ambience that adds nothing to the overall experience. All they do is break the flow of the album, and I don't see any point in their existence other than to prove to some unseen judge that believes metal is only truly great when it is diverse, that they can indeed do something other than thrash your face off.

Also, I don't know what the previous vocalist sounded like, but this new guy has a serious stiffy for Fear Factory/Meshuggah-type yelling. Not screaming, not growling, yelling. Frankly, it doesn't fit very well. I'm not a fan of the vocal style to begin with, but it sounds like shit when mixed with the top notch Tech Death that fills the background. So don't get me wrong, Ob(Servant) is a great Tech Death album plagued by bad vocals and bad songwriting. Give it a spin if you're a fan of the style, but don't be surprised if it underwhelms you at all.

Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

A Calculated Effort (but a little hollow...) - 75%

TheWarmaster, December 13th, 2008

Okay, I guess I should start this one off by saying that I had rather high expectations for “Ob(Servant)”, the latest release from Tasmanian technical death metal band Psycroptic. The first reason is the fact that their first two albums, “The Isle of Disenchantment” and “Scepter of the Ancients”, were simply amazing, with “Scepter” perhaps being one of the best technical death metal albums of the decade. And the second reason... well, their third effort, “Symbols of Failure”, was a rather average effort overall, mainly due to a substandard delivery from the band’s new vocalist, Jason Peppiatt, who ended up drawing too much attention to himself (and, as a result, away from the rest of the band) with his rather weak mixture of growls and snarls. So, as you can expect, I found myself hoping that this album would manage to preserve the qualities that made the first two so good, whilst touching up on the elements that ended up dragging “Symbols” down. And did Psycroptic manage this?

Well, yes and no, really. As I first sat down to listen to this record, just after purchasing it from the band’s drummer himself at their latest adults-only hometown show (yes, I happen to live right near Hobart), I found myself both surprised and disappointed by what I heard. Whilst they had managed to fix the problems that blighted “Symbols of Failure”, they had also decided to take a more simplistic and catchy approach in the writing of this album (no doubt a result of their signing with Germany’s Nuclear Blast). However, this new approach seems to have drained away a lot of the band’s substance, which automatically brings down their performance as a result. To put it simply, it’s a rather good album, but it’s far from their best, and I’ll explain why as I go along. And, be mindful that I’m not doing a track-by-track analysis, seeing as how the tracks are all quite similar to one another.

First of all, I’ll discuss the guitar. In the past, Joe Haley has completely blown me away with his guitar work, whether it be through his insane technicality (“Skin Coffin”, off “Scepter...”), groove (some moments on “The Valley of Wind’s Breath and Dragon’s Fire”, from the same album), or simply just through sounding awesome (from about 1:23 onwards on “Merchants of Deceit”, from their last album). However, “Ob(Servant)” presents what I can only call a dumbed-down version of Joe’s previous efforts. Sure, there are still quite a few moments where the guitar work almost kicks you in the balls but it was the fact that previous efforts were saturated with such moments that made Joe’s guitar work all the more special. This time, about half of these uber-technical riffs have been replaced with simple power chord progressions and palm-muted chugging. Of course, this was bound to happen, given the band’s desire to make their music more accessible, but Joe seems to be a bit lacking in the “memorable” department this time around.

Bass is more of the same, really. Cameron Grant is definitely an extremely skilled bassist, given that his bass lines are usually just Joe’s guitar parts, transposed down an octave. However, the fact that he often plays along with Joe is also his weakness. Yes, you can hear him in the mix, despite what people often say – it’s just that he’s not really giving you anything that the guitar isn’t, and so isn’t really worth noticing. That’s the curse of the death metal bassist, I suppose.

Next, we come to the drums. Dave Haley seems to have the same issue as Joe on a lot of the songs, in that he’s sacrificed some of the insane technicality that made his previous efforts so memorable. Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s no shortage of moments on here where you’re held in awe by his insane double-bass drumming. And, yes, he still blasts with the best of them. It’s just that the number of these moments seems to have decreased, with the remaining space being filled with sparse, generic rhythms that would seem more fitting on, perhaps, In Flames’ “Whoracle” (which was a good album, yes, but the drumming really didn’t do much more than keep time for the most part). I swear, at a couple of points, the drumming even sounds more akin to AC/DC than a technical death metal band (I’m talking as simple as straight-eight beats) – and, when it comes to Psycroptic, that’s pretty much unheard of. Or, at least, until now. Good effort, Dave, but try to bring some of that insanity back in the future!

Now onto what I think is perhaps the album’s strongest point – the vocals. Yes, I know that this was considered to be one of the weak points of the album by a number of people, considering the fact that they’re a great departure from the venomous barrage that Psycroptic had become known for. But “Ob(Servant)” is where Jason Peppiatt really shines. On “Symbols of Failure”, Peppiatt’s goal seemed to be to imitate his predecessor, Matthew Chalk – a goal which he fell short of, with his mediocre vocals taking too much off the spotlight and, ultimately, making the majority of the tracks dull and forgettable. On “Ob(Servant)”, however, Peppiatt’s realised that he simply doesn’t have Chalky’s endurance, and has decided to slow down and give himself, and the music, time to breathe. Also, the focus has largely shifted away from traditional death growls (they’re still there, though), with Peppiatt now employing two new vocal styles for most of the album – a nicely-done black metal shriek (reminiscent of Ihsahn’s efforts on Emperor’s “Promethius: The Discipline of Fire and Demise”), and a loud, hoarse shout that will definitely put off all of the close-minded death metal purists out there (whose obligatory reaction to anything of the sort seems to involve condemning it as “gay metalcore shit”). He even seems to slip into a midway point between two of his three styles at some points, and different vocal techniques are often overdubbed over one another, helping to add depth and reinforce particular moments of tension. This is where you belong, Peppo – give yourself a round of applause.

The album’s production is your typical Psycroptic fare - clear and sterile. The vocals are mixed perfectly, as they’re not too prominent, yet not too quiet (if you need to know, an example of “too quiet” would be the harsh vocals on Ensiferum’s otherwise-brilliant “Iron”, although that was really only a minor inconvenience... yes, I like a rather wide range of metal). As for the guitar tone, it’s definitely an improvement over the last album. Whilst it still lacks gain and, as a result, heaviness (which I think is rather necessary, given that overly-distorting it would make it harder to appreciate Joe’s more technical riffs), it no longer has the tinny, robotic quality that it had on “Symbols”. The drums sound good, although the triggers on the bass drums have a “clicky” sound that can get irritating at times. And the bass... well, I can hear it, but not well enough. If Cam started to use a more contrapuntal style, I could comment further.

And, before I forget, I feel that I must mention is the electronics on the album. Contributed by Sydney’s The Amenta (misspelled in the booklet as “The Ementa”), the electronic sections present on this album are used to great effect, providing a number of ambient interludes that help to break up the monotony a little (not that said monotony is necessarily bad, of course). These sections, which are comprised mainly of faint drones and distant wails, and are often accompanied by simple guitar work from Joe, really help to set the mood, providing you with mental images of a bleak, far-distant future, where humanity has long since breathed its last, and the stars themselves are haunted by the phantoms of mysterious and long-dead alien races – something which may seem more at home alongside the lyrics of “Symbols of Failure”, I know, but I personally think it sounds much better here.

In conclusion, I’d have to say that “Ob(Servant)” is both a step forward and a step backward for Psycroptic. Jason Peppiatt has finally managed to establish himself as a vocalist, instead of simply trying to fill in for Chalky, and has proved to be a rather effective force (and, from what I witnessed when attending their hometown show just over a week ago, an amazing stage presence). However, the rest of the band has gone and simplified things, which has made it blatantly obvious that Psycroptic’s strength lies in the chaotic and technical songwriting approach that they applied to their previous albums. So, it’s not exactly the most memorable or groundbreaking of albums, and it leaves a fair bit to be desired, but I’d definitely recommend this to any death metal fan with an open mind.

Recommended Tracks – “A Calculated Effort”, “Horde in Devolution”, “Immortal Army of One”, “Initiate”.

Be Ob(Servant) of This Calculated Effort - 100%

serial_killer_miller, November 4th, 2008

I will be the first to admit it took me a long time to get into Psycroptic. It semeed to me that they had a lot of unecessary vocal styles on their previous albums and I just could not get past them in order to enjoy the music. Call me cynical if you must, but being a death metal vocalist myself I have alawys lived by one principle. If you can growl and make it audible than it is just that much more brutal. I noticed instances of that principle on Psycroptic's previous release Symbols of Failure so I waited with high expectations for Psycroptic's next album and it absolutley exceeded what I was expecting.

When I first heard this album I will admit that I was not very fond of it, yes I understand this sounds contridctory to what I said in the above paragraph, but after giving this album a fair trial it has grown on me significantly. The riffs on every song seem to sick with me and David Haley is an absolute juggernaut. He has drummed on four albums this year including this one and he has not disappointed on any of them. You cannot help but admire his dedication.

Now onto what I like most about Ob(Servant), the vocals. A lot of critics seem to think that Psycroptic has lost their edge because the vocals are not what fans are accustomed to. I find it to be the opposite entirley. There is a nice mix of expected grunts and growls, some surprising shouting vocals, and some nicley put together shreeks to deliver a pure message of utter brutality.

It appears that some may wish to condemn this album at first glance and I myself would be included in that group, however I would strongly suggest to give this album at least a few more listens before making your final judgement. It may just be enough to change your opinion . I know that providing this album that little bit of extra playing time changed mine for the better.

Ob(Servant) - 70%

tominous, October 19th, 2008

Much like death metal gods Nile, a change of label onto German based merchandise machine Nuclear Blast signals a change of the winds that lift the sails of Psycroptic. A path has been cleared to a wider audience and the pressure of morphing into a more accessible sound could play a part in the evolution process.

Psycroptic fans across the world will be holding The Isle of Disenchantment(2001) and The Sceptre of the Ancients (2003) as benchmarks for comparison, and must be hoping the Australian’s fourth full length album (Ob)Servant will uphold the quality of these two killer releases.

Like a greyhound out the gates, the title track will mug you and be gone again in a flash, but on the whole the balance between break down and break neck is apt. The groove seems to be from Pantera/Southern style riffs in certain places instead of the laid down beats from before.

The glory of Psycroptic and their incandescent technicality is that it all operated on one level and is a whole output, unlike some bands who may have blistering speed and finger work but over-complicate things and miss the “impact” button on their way. Ob(Servant) avoids this throughout. On the flip side some have condemned Psycroptic’s music as directionless and hence ultimately not rewarding, and this does stand true to some extent on this latest release.

Replacing what would normally be a clever eye-popping twist with a bit of basic hardcore and having bland vocals that sound like Peter Dolving instead of the pick and mix grows and gurgles may be steps towards musical maturity, but fails to excite and are largely disappointing.

Ob(Servant) will not alienate too many fans and will definitely make some new ones. If the next release is a firecracker the name of Psycroptic can safely take its place in the hall of death metal fame.

A (Mis)calculated Effort - 71%

Rhizome, October 4th, 2008

What we have here is an entirely different sounding Psycroptic album than its predecessors. It has some good moments but nothing really memorable . The vocals have become more aggressive, the riffs have got somewhat groove-oriented. After listening to the album a considerable number of times so that it grows on me, I can say that this is a regular run of the mill technical death album and there is absolutely nothing exceptional or ground-breaking about it. There are very less catchy riffs and the ones which you can actually remember at the end . But apart from catchy riffing this album lacks in substance and the riffs are loosely bound together. And unlike their earlier efforts, you will not find any jaw dropping riffs. The riffs are fast and technical but somewhere you can feel that they lack substance. The vocals however are an improvement over 'Symbols of Failure' but still a lot of work needs to be done in this area. The vocals are quite tolerable here, however nothing really exceptional about them. But down the line, after giving the album sufficient time to grow on me , I find that it hasn’t grown on me like their earlier albums. I don’t find myself listening to this album over and over again. The production is very good however and the drums are clear and loud but the clicky sound is annoying at times . David Haley has given another great performance here. This guy sure can play fast and catch up with the riffing with perfection. But that alone cannot be the savior here.

Some of the highlights of a rather weak album. The album opens up with the title track , which instantly hit me. It has to be the most enjoyable track of the album. The riffing and the drumming are precise and impeccable complemented well by the new aggressive style vocals. 'Slaves of Nil' starts off with a nice riff and the vocals complement well. At 1:43 comes a riff which I find myself listening to again and again. The song breaks around 4 and comes up again with a bang after some time. A pretty good track . 'The Shifting Equilibrium' reminds somewhat of the older Psycroptic with the riff frenzy starting at 1:46. 'Removing the Common Bond' is probably the best track alongwith the title track. Some catchy riffing here . The song holds on to you before the rather bizarre ending. 'Horde in Devolution' is not quite impressive except for a few riffs here and there. 'Immortal Army of One' is another highlight of this album. Nicely woven riffs on display here. The album closes with ‘Initiate’ which starts of pretty well with some Nile-esque riffing It goes on pretty well and then comes a great build up to a riff at 4:06. Reminds much of the build up of ‘Merchants of Deceit’. These pretty much sum up the highlights of this album . As I said you can find some good songs here, but I don’t find myself addicted to them as I was with their first two phenomenal albums and partially with ‘Symbols of Failure’.

Being a admirer of Psycroptic over the years, I am not quite impressed with this .The album lacks substance and stands nowhere near their first two releases. Hence the 70%.Overall a pretty tight album, but lack of substance and somewhat generic nature coupled with other factors like the clicky drum sound and the not so impressive song structures prevent me from digging this.

Tracks to check out:
(Ob)Servant
Removing the Common Bond
Slaves of Nil
Immortal Army of One
Initiate