To be frank, I approached Four Dimensional Flesh with immense trepidation. Brutal death metal and/or slam aren’t exactly locales I find myself frequenting with any kind of regularity--if I pass through, it’s usually a lone track in the midst of an otherwise innocuous playlist. While the dedication to slammin’ riffs and woodpecker-on-a-hot-tin-roof percussive fills are certainly attractive bedfellows, the trademark drainpipe gutturals and resonance chamber bree-brees really ain’t this scribes cup o’ vox.
And yet here we are, plumbing the gurgling pipes with a grim sense of glee. Why? Because Afterbirth, much like Wormhole, strives to make slam interesting. And it is this quality that remains Four Dimensional Flesh’s greatest strength amongst strengths.
In short, this is the kind of multi-layered album that continually draws you back in not by exclusive benefit of Good Riffs, but rather a dedication to complexity and intrigue. But! Let’s not dive down that particular rabbithole yet. Too often, a so-called focus on progressive axemanship becomes an excuse to not write chonky riffs, and, when you fall on the heftier side of the death metal spectrum, you can’t really get by without the headbang factor. That’s all to say: these riffs do indeed bang with the kind of ferocious pugilism of a fighter on the cusp of a satisfyingly righteous revenge plot. There’s a taste of Cryptopsy, Unfathomable Ruination, and some healthy Vomitory aggression thrown about, and while Afterbirth do feel wholly unique, it’s worth mentioning that the brutality stands on a foundation of genuinely hard-hitting guitarwork.
But. The true soul of Four Dimensional Flesh is, without a doubt, the expansive prog-inflected approach to composition. Much like Cynic or Artificial Brain set a standard in the creation of their respective approaches and soundscapes, Afterbirth feel remarkably fresh. This, I can’t reiterate enough. Take any track at random--say the blastbeat-ridden “Spiritually Transmitted Disease,” or the deliciously energetic “Never Ending Teeth,” or the languid “Girl in Landscape,”--and I guarantee that your initial expectations were, in the process of listening, somehow subverted. This album takes the stale approach of brutal death metal’s gory aesthetic and lifts it into the star-strewn cosmos, shedding the dry traits of genre convention with the kind of confidence that implies a complete disregard for the rules. As such, this isn’t a chaotic Dead Space brand of sci-fi--this is retrofuturism at its most polished. At risk of sparking a worldwide metalhead conflict, Afterbirth have constructed the Apollo II to Hidden History of the Human Race’s Sputnik.
Let me take a break to state the obvious, if it’s not already apparent: I really, really like this album.
Part of it is the off-kilter weirdness, which thrives on oddly seamless juxtapositions. There exists a definite commitment to pulling off a very tricky confluence of sounds, technical components, and genre manipulation. Take, as a single example, the stellar “Everything In Its Path,” which delivers, simultaneously, a sweeping melancholic edge and an all-consuming gallop, both writhing alongside some disgustingly top-tier fills. Part of that is the relatively unexplored aesthetic, which feeds the parts of my brain that love A. death metal and B. Ray Bradbury...at the same damn time. Part of it is the shimmering production and the attention to mimicking the soaring atmosphere across all aspects of the mix.
Perhaps most important to Afterbirth’s success is the sheer joy one experiences listening to an album that leads you through a process of grandiose exploration, rather than dumping you in the midst of familiar trappings. Just take the conclusive one-two punch of “Black Hole Kaleidoscope” and the following title track. After experiencing the album as a whole, this cinematic climax evokes astral scenery in a delightful fashion. Never before have I felt so entranced listening to brutal death metal. Never has metal of the slam-adjacent variety been so relaxing. So...compelling.
This damn thing, like unto the black hole it employs in narrative form, wields an irresistible draw. In the past few days, I’ve listened to these same 35 minutes over, and over, and over again. While Afterbirth have never been slouches, Four Dimensional Flesh is a masterful accomplishment--impressive on it’s own merits, sure, but when compared to their prior expeditions, it is exceedingly clear that Afterbirth have made one giant leap. I am genuinely giddy when imagining the potential they possess, should they attempt to shoot even further into the stars. If this is the future of death metal, consider this scribe inordinately pleased.
Afterbirth - Four Dimensional Flesh was released March 13th from Unique Leader Records
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.