Technical death metal, a young subgenre though it is, has largely become quite saturated. Perhaps it was its mission statement: playing at such a high technical level can in many cases shoehorn out any tangible songwriting, and cause the music to meld into a familiar blur. That said, the genre can harness immense power when it is injected with something new, as Pyrexia have skillfully done on their newest effort, Feast of Iniquity
Pyrexia have, to put it bluntly, given technical death metal some balls. They inject the tech-death foundation with a wilder, more feral quality, so that the immediacy and menace of each song sounds like it’s happening right in your living room, instead of on spaceships galaxies away like many tech-death bands do.
Perhaps the most evident example of this is Eric Shute’s vocal performance. With most tech-death bands, the vocals are an afterthought – a guttural, monotone instrument to provide extra percussion over which the guitars continue their gratuitous noodling. Shute, on the other hand, utilizes his vocals to serve each song to its fullest potential with a mix of cavernous lows, robust mids, and scalding highs. The variation serves to give the vocals – and by extension the entire album – a human element, making the insanity and ferocity behind each manic exhalation that much more terrifying than the robotic vocals of most tech-death.
The most jarring and offsetting piece of the Pyrexia formula, at least at first, is the drumming. When I first pressed play on opener “The Pendulum”, I was a little confused by how high the drums were in the mix, especially with regards to the snare’s placement right at the center of the listener’s auditory soundstage, dominating just about anything else around it. But then again, Pyrexia have the privilege of two drummers from Suffocation playing on this album – Doug Bohn (on <i>Pierced From Within</i>) and Dave Culross (from this year’s fantastic <i>Pinnacle of Bedlam</i>) – so that possible liability becomes a huge asset. Both drummers utilize the prominent place the drums play in the mix of <i>FOI</i>, giving the tracks a harsh, militaristic feel that serves to enhance the tangible brutality Pyrexia emphasize and master.
All that being said, none of this would work if there weren’t any riffs, as is the case with pretty much every metal album. Luckily, Pyrexia have them in spades, as guitarist Chris Basile provides an endless barrage of galvanizing riffs sure to ignite furious bouts of synchronized neck seizures and human tornados (Moshnadoes? Mansoons?) in even the most physically conservative of metalheads. And I’ll be damned if the riffs of “The Pendulum”, “Wheel of Impunity”, and “Thy Minion” don’t stick in your head like the bolts that jut out of Frankenstein’s cranium.
Yet the one quality that aids the band most comprehensively is the production. Rather than opting for the slick, and ultimately sterile, production of their peers, Pyrexia have gone for a much earthier mix, its dirtiness lending a dose of uncomfortable closeness to the listener and making every riff, every blast, every growl that much more aurally impactful. By distancing themselves from the tech-death orthodoxy, Pyrexia have put out what is easily one of the best technical death metal albums of the year. They manage to recapture the ferocity that some of the early tech-death bands were able to harness, and apply it in an altogether more feral and ferocious manner. I have to give some kudos to Dave Culross, whose sticksmanship has now been featured on two of the best death metal releases of the year. If you, like me, had avoided technical death metal for a while because of its stagnation and sterility, then I would give this album a spin: it just might make you rethink your stance on the subgenre, and definitely diversifies it, if only by one band.
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