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Epic Death Metal; Creation From Destruction - 86%

Mercyful Trouble, August 29th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Dark Descent Records

When you listen to a long, multi-sectional piece of music, you don't just expect something to jam to. You usually expect to be taken on a journey of some kind; a vast realm you can step inside of and explore. When I think of music that feels like an "aura" that surrounds the listener, slower, more atmospheric stuff generally comes to mind, but I think faster compositions have that quality too, through sheer relentlessness. Death metal is known to do both, often in the very same piece. Whether through doom-drenched, funereal trudges or elaborate, tremolo-picked onslaughts, I feel that the subgenre's giant, chaotic sound, especially that of the less thrashy, more intensely guttural bands, feels like a truly physical presence that makes their musical passages all the more real.

Funny thing here, though, is despite the debut album from Turkey's Burial Invocation, Abiogenesis, containing atmosphere wrought from both ends of the tempo-spectrum, it's not the type where eviscerating, labyrinthine riffs drill ever-downward into caverns of snail-paced depravity. Rather, the slower parts here consist of grandiose segments of cosmic lead guitar work and brutal chugs; there's not much dirge-like stuff here. Strange, since on their debut EP from 2010, Rituals of the Grotesque, they were proud flag-bearers of the modern old school death metal elite, fashioning familiar tropes into fresh songs. Dark Descent Records is quite trustworthy, if predictable, when it comes to delivering that sort of thing, so I found the long-form technical death metal approach on this 2018 release fairly surprising but refreshing. Surprising not just because it wasn't what I was expecting from a band like Burial Invocation, but also because the material here ventures into largely overlooked territory in death metal.

The slimy, murky bands of the modern death metal scene obviously keep Onward to Golgotha and Mental Funeral in constant rotation (rightfully so), but you also have those bands who payed extra-close attention to Finland's output from that time - Nespithe, Slumber of Sullen Eyes, Psychostasia, and all the other usual culprits of that scene. Today, we have Tomb Mold, Zealotry, Chthe'ilist, Blood Incantation, and plenty of other bands that add more technicality and sci-fi themes into the return of classic death metal, often being technical in the literal sense of what they play, but "old school" in their vibes, imagery, and execution. I consider this reinvented Burial Invocation somewhere among that lot too, but this is decidely more of a direct collision between modern, ear-piercingly precise tech death and old school, winding, guttural reverberations.

One gets a sense of that immediately, as soon as they hear the floating, post-metal reminiscent melodies that open up "Revival". This progression, along with the drumming, intensifies in such a way that it forcefully plunges the listener into the chugging riff that follows, which accompanies the first set of tasty gutturals. The momentum Burial Invocation builds here is founded upon the gospel of Bolt Thrower, and of course, Demigod, but it's fully etched out through what can be described as a proto-brutal death metal filter, comparable to Butchered at Birth-era Cannibal Corpse. It's a considerable source of groove all throughout the album, as are the sudden switches in the tempo of the drumming and the balance between chug and tremolo riffing; see the part around 2:56 in the title track for a good idea of that. On that point, the title track is definitely the centerpiece here, being one of the most diverse death metal voyages ever crafted this side of The Chasm. It still includes those melodic (although often noodly and sometimes even gaudy) leads and those less bludgeoning, muted A-string tech death riffs, but it has more up its sleeve for transitions, including subtle dissonant chords and even a Liege of Inveracity-like slam(ish) section. The word "Abiogenesis" refers to how the very first lifeforms came to be from organic compounds: life beginning from things which aren't alive in a primordial soup of counterintuitively nourishing sludge, below gaseous sheaths of noxious vapors. This is a tale of the grotesque, visceral origins of life that works ironically yet expectably well for death metal, an approach validated by the previously mentioned circle of sci-fi, technical OSDM bands. It's not too difficult to see how the music on Abiogenesis as a whole illustrates the chaotic, today unlivable circumstances of some billions of years ago.

"Visions of the Hereafter" consists mostly of that same thick cloud of asphyxiating sulfur for most of its running time, but culminates in the album's best guitar solo. The rhythm guitar behind it helps a lot, but the lick is a force to be reckoned with all on its own. Less of a solo but about as memorable is the recurring melody in "Phantasmagoric Transcendence", which does a fantastic job of musically signifying this to be the last death metal piece of the lot with its rising progression, gesturing beyond the Tenebrous Horizons of this impossible expanse of a planet. That acoustic closer is a decent touch, a compliment to the previous track's seeming finality, but it's fairly cliché.

Abiogenesis' production though, is highly refreshing. I initially thought the sound a tad underwhelming compared to the footprint of similar bands, but further listening revealed what a delight it is for the style the band pursued here. It's clear that Burial Invocation wanted to hone their artistic vision to a tee when you take this production job into account. Everything breathes - the drums have an in-studio, terrestrial feel, the bass is right where it should be for tech death, the guitars have both sludge and tightness to their bite, and the vocals are the realest deal possible. You hear a lot of low gutturals like these get really buried for the sake of atmosphere, which is often done quite well, but giving them a more corporeal presence was the right move for Abiogenesis. To me, it's highly reminiscent of the contrast between the early Incantation albums with Craig Pillard on vocals and those of the 2000's with Mike Saez or John McEntee. The latter two vocalists are also known to do the occasional high growl which, for another parallel, exists here too, sounding perfectly in place, just like everything else. Dark Descent releases pretty much always deliver on the production front, but Burial Invocation's approach here would've been all too easy to butcher with lackluster recording, but that possibility was deftly averted.

Really, Abiogenesis is a quality-assured helping of sophisticated and epic death metal. Burial Invocation deserves to climb the ladder of success and become a more common name in the modern death metal scene, something that has eluded them even in the wake of this latest offering of theirs, likely because it came out almost 7 years after their previous release and over 8 after their landmark debut EP. However, they not only split up and reformed in that time, but also reinvented themselves musically, so I don't expect the next Burial Invocation release to take as long. Abiogenesis, though, is a refined incarnation of that reinvention, and unlike the other technically inclined death metal bands of the murky variety, it really works better as a technical death metal album than as an old school one, which is absolutely not a claim I would make for, say, its 2018 peer, Tomb Mold's Manor of Infinite Forms. Anyway, who knows, this might appeal to Obscura and Beyond Creation fans who think Death post-Spiritual Healing is the only good classic death metal band. I've always liked the technical death metal with a more earthly, slimy feel to it, and this checks off that box quite nicely, while also bringing some modern influences into the fold. Abiogenesis could indeed be the genesis of something pretty unique going forward, but until then, let's just hope Dan Seagrave keeps painting these awesome death metal covers.