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Spiral to Oblivion - 84%

33 RPM Chaos, November 24th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, Digital, Season of Mist

Technical death metal has become of one extreme metal's most prolific subgenres. It's a personal favorite of mine when done well, which isn't always the case. I've never seen such a huge gap in quality in bands as there is with tech death. Without a doubt it's an incredibly difficult genre to play well, and not just because of the level of musicianship needed. Usually balancing that musicianship with interesting songwriting is what trips many bands up. One band that perfectly nailed this balance is Rekyjavik's Ophidian I, who released their sophomore album, 'Desolate' on July 16th via Season of Mist.

Ophidian I's sound falls right in the middle of the wide tech death genre. They combine the intricate melodic style of Obscura with a speed similar to but not as fast as Archspire. Ophidian I, like many other tech death bands, center their sound around their guitarists. The guitar lines soar above the rest of the band and carry the majority of the melody. This entire album is loaded with excellently crafted riffs and guitar solos. My two favorite tracks on the album, 'Spiral to Oblivion' and 'Enslaved in a Desolate System' both have incredibly catchy and memorable riffs alongside intricate solos. Each guitar line is well differentiated from last and manages to never sound bland. The guitar is punctuated by a bright, clear guitar tone, which makes each riff sound upbeat. Combine that with the breakneck speed of the drums and you're in for an incredibly energetic listen, which isn't something I typically associate with tech death.

Production is one of the hardest parts of tech death to get right. Often heaviness and listenability are mutually exclusive in tech death. Ophidian I strikes an excellent balance. The aforementioned guitar tone is an easy place to start. It's melodic when it needs to be but can still sound chunky, notably on the opening of 'Enslaved in a Desolate System'. The drums, vocals and bass also sound appropriately heavy, even though the bass is a bit low in the mix. The drums in particular are excellently recorded. They're clear but never sound thin which is something that often annoys me in tech death.

The production kind of highlights one of the only issues I have with this album. I kind of glossed over this earlier but the bass is criminally underrepresented on this album. There are undoubtedly some sick bass lines on here but they're constantly overshadowed by the guitar. A louder bass tone would be an excellent compliment to the bright guitar tone. The vocals are often overshadowed by the guitar as well. Vocals are often the most predictable part of the tech death sound and that's no exception here. They aren't bad, they just don't stand out especially with all of the insane guitar wizardry going on.

'Desolate' is an excellent tech death album. Ophidian I display their technical skill as musicians while still crafting listenable songs. While the guitar may be a bit overpowering at times, it's never enough to ruin the album. If you're a fan of tech death, I highly recommend this album. People who are already fans of tech death will appreciate this album the most but realistically any metal fan can enjoy this. Tech death is a difficult genre to perform well and there are few that do it quite like Ophidian I.