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Proliferation - Woodborn - 100%

chrisc7249, June 12th, 2021

What is it with all these tech death bands in the past 5 years releasing big time, game changing debuts and then not putting out a follow up? I get that the world kind of imploded on itself, but in contrast, all that time doing nothing should've given a lot of these bands more time to write music. I don't know how these processes work as of yet - I'm just a dumb teenager that just started actually getting into music. But, I await with open ears to hear what a lot of these new school tech/prog death bands have to offer.

By far one of the best of this group of "debut only" tech death bands is Proliferation, who, surprisingly enough, hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as say, The Zenith Passage, Cult of Lilith, Aethereus or any of the others. They're not on a big label, this record wasn't as highly advertised, and yet, it's better than the majority of the tech death records we've seen get released since 2016. In fact, I'd argue this one of the best tech/prog death albums ever released, and it is a genuinely breathtaking experience that I feel all fans of the genre should give a listen to.

"Woodborn" is a bit of a slow burning record. Of course it has its tech death parts that remind me of Obscura, Decrepit Birth and The Faceless. However, a lot of this album is built on atmosphere and beautiful melodies that are absolutely enchanting and transport the listener into another dimension. Seriously, there are some really gorgeous melodies on this record, and a lot of the lead guitar work, especially the solos, have a lot of feel and thought put into them. In this sense, it's very reminiscent of records from bands like Fallujah and Virvum. The songs are pretty lengthy, though not over the top like one would see on an Opeth record. They're long enough to allow the songs to expand and explore multiple ideas and passages, but not too long where they're just throwing random things at a wall to see if they stick and it ends up becoming a mess. These are near perfectly crafted tracks, with amazing build ups and great musicianship. I can't recall a single part on this album that drags on for too long or seems pointless. Everything has a meaning and a reason to be where it is, and I can tell these were geniously woven songs that took a lot of time and effort to make.

The musicianship, as mentioned before, is great, and exactly what one would expect from an album of this genre. Sometimes it's blazing fast, giving you a good jolt of the death metal part, while a lot of the cleaner, melodious parts will certainly please prog heads. Each song has a fair balance of both of these extremes. There are two vocalists that both do screaming and even some singing on a handful of the tracks, and while they don't have amazing voices, they certainly use their clean singing to an advantage, and it doesn't detract from the record. The growls are fairly standard but serviceable, it's really hard to find death metal vocalists with growls that stand out.

The atmosphere of this record is what really brings it over the top. A lot of the slower, clean sections hearken back to the glory days of Cynic, and they truly elevate the music to a new level. It's an otherworldly experience, one that many bands of this genre have tried and failed numerous times to create. Seriously, listening to this thing can let your mind drift away into a distant universe, sometimes it's chaotic and sometimes it's beautiful and endearing. It's, like I stated before, a perfect balance of the two elements and rarely do bands make such a combination of sounds work.

I apologize for not being the most intelligent when it comes to describing music, but I hope that what I am able to muster up is enough for fans of this style of music to give this a listen. It doesn't completely reinvent the genre, but it does have some ideas that you won't find on other records easily, and in my eyes, it is a pretty "next level" record that is a must listen for people fiending for this style of metal. "Woodborn" takes a lot of risks, and exceeds expectations in every regard, and it is one of the most complete records to be released in this genre in the past few years. A stellar debut all around, and Proliferation has easily become one of my top bands to look out for. I really hope they follow this record up soon, because I would love to hear where they go from here.

FFO: Virvum, Fallujah, Obscura
Favorite song: Woodborn
Final score: 10/10

Amazing concept album by prodigies - 95%

ratatoss, August 23rd, 2018

This album is amazing. This might be the first death metal record I've heard that's able to successfully pull off vocals from death metal, black metal, hardcore, and clean, harmonized singing. The rhythmic and melodic structure of this album is just as varied, with black-metal influenced drums and guitar leads that stand out by using (major!) scales such as lydian. Don't worry though, it's still blast-beats galore and plenty of dissonance and minor scale riffing à la all your favorite death metal bands.

Lately I've started to realize that the metal scene is expanding quickly thanks to the presence of dozens (if not hundreds) of incredibly talented, young musicians around the globe. So really, I shouldn't be surprised that this album was written by a band whose members were predominantly still in high school at the time. I mean, Daniel Mongrain was 18 when he recorded Hopeless hopes. But still, I am impressed. Of course the shitty thing is, now that the 19-year-olds of Proliferation have finished high school, they're running off to college, meaning that their band's future is pretty uncertain. To my ears, their music warrants presence on international stages, but sadly that's not happening any time too soon.

But back to the album. Woodborn is a concept album. In the vein of Obscura and other Obscura-inspired bands (Fractal Universe springs to mind), Proliferation so far has applied an overarching concept to their music. From their bandcamp page:

The album picks up where the previous EP left off, with the central unnamed character in an unknown forest on Earth, secluded from civilization. With his powers growing and emotions swirling endlessly, what will he find deeper in the forest?

OK, I know what you're thinking. Sounds a little cheesy, doesn't it? Sure, there are some cheesy moments on this record, like the clean singing closing the final track Aura of ash... But when life gives you cheese, make cheesecake. The first song, Memories of a false home can only be described as epic (and is, incidentally, one of the tracks where you can hear some sweet and otherwordly lydian melodies). The verse of this song is tha bom' diggity. Don't worry, this album brings the heaviness, and without even having to resort to downtuned guitars*.

To be sure, Woodborn boasts some immensely heavy sounds, like the dissonant, black-ish Adorned with mud, which leads out with one of the sweetest pinch harmonics that's graced the state of Georgia since Bill Kelliher moved there in the late 90s.

Speaking of Mastodon, what Proliferation has in common with Atlanta's biggest metal band is not so much their sound or being from the same city, but their teamwork. Despite the single concept they've not gone the route of having one composer, instead opting to share music and lyric writing duties. You can really hear the difference in music when everyone in the band contributes versus one person being behind the whole thing, even with concept albums. In Fractal Universe's Engram of decline the compositions all have the same tonality to them, generally make use of the same scales and the same chord progression features in several songs – I'm not knocking this at all because that album is a masterpiece, by the way, but you can hear that the music came from one person. In Proliferation's case, the two guitarists Iacovella and Longerbeam and "guest" musician Peterson (mainly keys) have all been credited as the songwriters, and I'd wager that, just like with Atlanta fellows Mastodon, this is what contributes to the variety of scales, progressions and rhythms displayed and juxtaposed on Woodborn.

So this album is amazing, but sadly I couldn't give it 100%. Why? Some of the guitar solos are too pointless and meandering. This isn't improv jazz. Yeah, it's technical death metal, but that doesn't mean the solos should be all technique and no feels. You know the type of deplorable solo I'm talking about: the guitarist has so obviously studied music theory that the solo ends up being not much more than a technical exercise using a certain scale pattern or arpeggio played at lightning speed, without any regard for the underlying music, and worse yet, without giving any meaning to the solo itself. I love guitar solos (I really do), but I can't stand meaningless skill-displays. Having said that, luckily most guitar solos on this album are pretty good. Not mind-blowing like on Engram of decline or any of Revocation's stuff, or Mastodon's Hearts alive, but pretty good, and certainly technically masterful. The stand-out track, solo-wise is undoubtedly The council of elders – that one has all the feels.

Other than that I have no gripes with this album. Sound and production-wise it reminds me of an EP I recently reviewed, Coexistence's Contact with the entity, really clear and crisp production, which is a good thing. The bass on this album is not as prominent or creative as on that record, though. But it doesn't matter, the guitars, drums and vocals have melodies for days, weeks, years.... well, let's see. This band's career had better not be over before it truly began.

*Disclaimer: they might be in E flat, I'm not sure, but when I say downtuned I mean tuned down to like A, or at least to below D.