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Departing the Damned - 81%

theBlackHull, October 27th, 2012

Toronto’s metal scene never stops amazing me, either on the old school and the new school alike. This time around, it pulls the best out of the mid to late 1990’s death metal era under the form of Fragile Existence.

Does the name sound familiar? This could very well be a reference to Chuck Schuldiner’s (of Death fame) Control Denied 1999 album, The Fragile Art of Existence. This album was one hell of a progressive album with all the elements of classic Death and surprisingly good traditional clean heavy metal vocals. Does Toronto’s Fragile Existence live up to those expectations in terms of style? Well, I’m not sure if it was intentional or not (the band is very careful about it), but I find it a good reference point.

Founding member Dan Glover seems to have been writing Departing the Damned as he was still playing with brutal death metal Nephelium. Although it should ring a bell in terms of technical skills, the two bands sit on very different shelves.

Departing the Damned was likely not recorded in a multi-million studio. The sound is good, but probably closer to your average 1990 analog death metal band rather than the 2012 hi-tech production. One thing that I particularly enjoy is that you can hear every single instrument relatively well, especially the bass guitar. This might not be Steve DiGiorgio, but the playing is capturing exactly the combination of fast picking AND free style so important in progressive death metal. Kudos here.

The musicianship brings you all over the place without tiring your ear. Somehow, they found a way to capture technicality and melodies alike. While I mentioned bass guitar previously, it’s really the double guitars and drums that form the meat and bones. The guitar arrangements go from technical death to trash, in a general vibe (and production) that reminds me of early Disciples of Power. There is a great dose of skills put into the guitar solos, such as the cascading solo of “A Gradual Decline” that would easily fit on Megadeth’s Rust in Peace. More kudos here. As for the vocals, well, they’re a mix of both generic death metal growl and clean vocals à-la-Jamey Jasta, or with rough edges reminiscent of early death metal clean vocals.

While the music is a great success, and the production fulfills its purpose, it’s in the overall flow and tracklisting that the album deserve its weakest points. Although I can’t pinpoint any weak song, I can’t pinpoint any centrepiece either. As if the order of the songs didn’t bother much, it feels more like a collection of songs. A simple breather or a progressive surprise in the middle of the album might have solved the problem. A case in point, they dare looping one same stoner riff for about 2 min 45 towards the end of the last song, called “Manifestations of Iniquity”, with brilliant results. Here, to my honest opinion, the trick draws a lot of attention and works incredibly well, bringing an unexpected shift in musical direction, and making the song clock without any difficulty at 9:19 minutes. This is the kind of surprise I’d like to find in any follow up to Departing the Damned.

Last but not least, Fragile Existence offers us the perfect artwork to sum up this solid piece of metal. Some kind of nightmarish red incubus/succubus emerging from a dead body out of the pits of hell, its back turned to a cold and dark landscape. This is the superb art of John Zig (Disgorge, Suffocation, Deranged, Sinister, Dying Fetus, and many more).

(Originally written for