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Tech-death done right - 97%

AlphaSignalFifteen, November 5th, 2008

While only the most cynical metalhead could deny the death scene is flourishing right now, there's no doubt that for every great tech-death act out there, there are ten more frustratingly mediocre Psycroptic wannabes boasting overly saturated distortion pedals and a severe lack of any real songwriting ability; plus, with the malignant 'core' virus spreading far and wide, no-one is safe, regardless of their legacy or stature in the metal world (naming no names, Cryptopsy).

It's refreshing then to come across a band that, rather than participate in this futile competition of "fastest-blasts-and-all-the-sweeps-you-can-shake-a-spiky-logo-at" rejects convention and plays to their own vision and strengths. Anata just happens to be such a band. If you haven't heard them before, think a more refined, focused Spawn of Possession and you've at least got some sort of idea, although, quite honestly, there isn't really a description I could give that would fairly convey their unique approach to death metal.

They're very technical (although never just for the sake of it)- time and key signatures, tempo and rhythms constantly shift, but there's an underlying cohesiveness. Songwriter Fredrik Schalin seems to love venturing outside conventional scales and explore more chromatic territory- the result is that the album benefits from a range of moods and atmospheres. There's some really strong guitar melodies on show here- they just all sound as if they were warped by a schizophrenic. The arrangements are excellent- the ideas grow and develop and each track stands up on its own as an accomplished piece. The production is also worth noting; the drums are full, yet tight and punchy, the vocals are tastefully produced and sit well in the mix. The bass manages to play a main part in the madness, being audible for the whole album without ever muddying the bottom-end and the mix makes full panoramic use of the guitars, pushing them to their frenzied potential.

The appropriately titled opener 'Downward Spiral Into Madness' charges along throwing guitar and vocal trade-offs left, right and centre. 'Complete Demise' goes straight for the jugular with its bulldozer main riff while 'Better Grieved Than Fooled' contains the most gracious guitar melodies this side of Gothenburg.

Stand-out track 'The Great Juggler' shows the band's musicianship on top form, packing groove and drum flourishes galore. 'Cold Heart Forged In Hell' is a progressive death metal masterpiece, from the eerie opening guitar lines through an intricate labrynth of dizzying passages.

Anata prove that, whilst happiest boggling heads, they can also bring enough force to cave them in, with the bludgeoning, doomy-as-fuck 'I Would Dream of Blood'. 'Children's Laughter' is a great example of this album's expert crafting and masterful execution- the principle of a short, mellow iterlude on a death metal record is nothing new; but where, for most bands it serves as either a couple of minutes of filler, or a shallow attempt to add some contrast to the album, here it becomes an essential part of the overall package. Soaring melodies and spacious atmospherics combine to lift the record to a new dimension before everything is plunged back into chaos by the truly sinister opening riff of 'Renunciate'.

The album is brought to a grand finale with the title track; riffs that most guitarists would give a left bollock for are traded off every few bars, the track snaking this way and that before returning to the dark, disturbing pit it emerged from.

Aside from the strength of the musicianship and songwriting (not to mention the depth and scope) of this release, I think what sets it furthest apart from the legions of uninspired 'Necryptic' tech bands out there is its ethos. It refuses to pander, or beg for you to like it. You have to accept and understand its twisted, psychotic take on death metal before it will reveal itself fully. And if you don't, then that's your loss.