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The wheel remains unbroken. - 71%

hells_unicorn, May 24th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2015, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

The road away from purely macabre pursuits towards more versatile expressions of discontent is not always a smooth one, and it isn't uncommon for any band making this trek to wind up with one foot in new territory while the other is still planted in the realm of the familiar. This is the disposition that Archaic Decapitator, a New England-based death metal band, found themselves in following a largely traditional LP of corpse-grinding fun dubbed Impalement Ceremonies. Given the musical context of the mid-2010s where death metal was becoming far more adventurous than simply modernizing Cannibal Corpse and throwing in a few technical gimmicks, particularly in the tech-obsessed American scene, this band would be seeking a new medium of expression for their madness while not quite abandoning the older one in the process.

Thus stands The Catherine Wheel, an album that is almost completely caught between the traditional death metal trappings of the 1990s and the post-Gothenburg technical extravagance of Arsis and The Black Dahlia Murder. Perhaps the best way to sum up the sound of the corresponding songs would be largely as death metal songs that occasionally shimmer with Gothenburg moments and feature a lead guitarist who could cut heads with Necrophagist's six-string wizards without breaking a sweat. The songwriting is naturally on the more concise side, with blasting quickies like the title song, "Sublevels" and "Ethereal Aspects" all clocking under four minutes and presenting a simplistic riff set that could best be described as Cannibal Corpse trying to sound like an American melodeath band from the late 2000s, the results of which being interesting but also a tad disjointed.

As things progress this outfit gets a tad closer to shedding their archaic death metal skin, but they still fall a tad short of crossing the Rubicon and playing in the same league as Arsis in a songwriting context. The somewhat longer and more ambitious "Disregard All Claims Of Sanity" shows some glimmers of tech riffing, but still largely sticks to a more dissonant and rhythmically detached mold of brutality that has about as much in common with Gallery Of Suicide as it would Epitaph. It isn't until the tail end of this miniature album that a full break from 1995 eastern U.S. territory to take place, though "Ghost" can be best described as more of an interlude into 1997 Gothenburg territory, sounding along the lines of a clear cut emulation of In Flames, save with Chris Barnes' brand of deep, throaty barks leading the charge.

To a casual observer, this has a sort of oddball charm to it, almost like seeing a zebra with no stripes or an albino tiger, and it may well stand as a historical curiosity of sorts in the coming years. Nevertheless, this is an offering that is more a stylistic transition point that will likely only tickle an occasional interest in either old school death or melodic death consumers. There are some occasional previews of where things would progress on the next couple of EPs, but barring a wildly technical guitar display and a somewhat uncommonly prominent bass performance that cuts through the arrangement a bit too often to ignore, this is a pretty conventional set of songs that sound decent but kind of lose their luster once the novelty wears off. It's rare that a band successfully reinvents themselves at the first attempt, but this is far from the worst attempt at innovation ever made.