Written by: Slammey Stanley
Dwelling within the bowels of Maggot Stomp trucker-bros and old-school thrashers lies Technical Death Metal’s most tired and abused insult: it isn’t brutal. These folks could admit the talent behind a minor-7-diminished-13th-whatever-the-fuck arpeggio being played at 300 BPM, but where’s the core of the brutality? Where’s the connection to the very heart, gore, and soul of the genre? Despite their arguably bland position as a staple motif, there’s an undeniable power to caveman riffs that isn’t present in a flurry of notes, or at the least, not in the same regard. Looking past the subgenre itself, the majority of modern, cutting edge Death Metal is bound to contain some extent of Technical prowess; to deliberately avoid the technical element would be to shut oneself off to most of the genre. But what about a perfect conjunction of Brutal Death Metal and Technical Death Metal? Odious Mortem have proven it to be a possibility on their past two records, and with a thirteen-year gap between Synesthesia and Cryptic Implosion, one would think that the Tech-Death titans would only strengthen that bond. And so the question remains: do they?
At the dawn of the new millennium, Odious Mortem was born. Harnessing their technical blasting/riff schematics in the depths of Northern California, Dan Eggers (guitar, vocals), David Siskin (guitar) and KC Howard (drums) conjured forth their first demo Gestation of Worms in 2003. This demo garnered the attention of Unique Leader Records, who enlisted the group, and along with the newly recruited bassist Joel Horner (who joined in 2004), Odious Mortem released their first full-length record Devouring the Prophecy in 2005. Directly after the record’s release, Anthony Trapani joined the group as the lead vocalist. However, before the release of their next record, guitarist David Siskin had left the band, leaving only Dan Eggers to cover live guitar. Yet, Odious Mortem carried on, releasing their second full-length Cryptic Implosion in 2007 via Willowtip Records. Their momentum halted there, hence our thirteen-year wait for new material. So just what has Odious Mortem crafted after 13 years of extreme instrumental refinement?
Perhaps a minor preface should be taken into account upon reading the term “Technical Death Metal”. Within recent years, Tech-Death has undertaken an immensely entertaining descent into inhuman madness. Bands such as Archspire, Inferi, and even Rings of Saturn (despite being a cheesy Deathcore band) have completely flipped the sub-genre on its own head. The instrumental complexion found on their records is parallel to none; each pushing the boundaries of what we know to be possible further into the impossible. Synesthesia, however, isn’t attempting to surpass these boundaries. Rather than to commit to the standard status-quo of Tech-Death, Odious Mortem use the technical prowess established in their earlier material as a blueprint for the material present on Synesthesia.
With no boundary-pushing content on the technical front, what does Odious Mortem bring to the table? A barrage of really well-polished, flawless instrumental madness would be the basic summary. The riffs present are delicate in their design; as a song progresses, each riff is simply an evolution of the one prior, reinvigorating instrumental patterns as a step forward rather than force-in a completely foreign idea for the sake of extending the song. There is a thematic balance between the dissonant, finger-displacing brutality and its melodic resolutions; an even contrast not usually implemented on a Tech-Death record. The record contains only a select few simple slam-type riffs, making their incorporation all the more impactful.
The subtle incorporation of prog-based transitions aids a track when a riff may be overstaying its welcome, as the off-time caliber adds a different spice to distract from a segment’s stale repetition. To provide a small intermission between the brutality, two clean-intros are included, and they don’t feel all too overbearing or redundant; although, they aren’t actually necessary, especially with the latter track being a four-minute instrumental with two of those minutes being dedicated to the vapid clean segment. As a supplemental quality of rejuvenation along with the prog-transitions, the drumming can be of assistance to a riff on its emotional decline, making or breaking the intensity of any particular section. Unfortunately, the bottom line remains positive solely in the meticulously planned structure of the riffs and their seamless transitions into each other, yet that’s the only real silver lining to be found.
Since Death Metal has evolved (mainly through Chuck Schuldiner’s efforts) from its foundation we currently refer to as OSDM, it has shed a variety of tonalities; Melodic Death Metal, Progressive Death Metal, Technical Death Metal, Brutal Death Metal, and the works. On Synesthesia, Odious Mortem never fully commit to any of these categories, only attempting to juggle the lot of them without implementing any form of purpose. Their main influences have a concrete tonality to their music, yet it’s not even appropriate to say that Odious Morem wear their influences on their sleeve. Deeds of Flesh have an array of purposeful and unpredictable song structures, Nile have a unique structure of harmonic-minor flavored brutality, and Dying Fetus have a fair blend of ultra-technical brutality and slam-flavored groove. After a thirteen-year wait, there should be more to this record than a stripped-down rendition of their past two records. There should be an interesting character to its sonic output, something truly unique rather than a semi-above average Tech-Death record.
As we rebound to my original question, it should be noted that Synesthesia is, indeed, a brutal record. Synesthesia is nearly 40 minutes of pummeling, unrelenting, and complex riff majesty, each riff constructing the foundation for the next. In that regard, some Death Metal fans will enjoy it. However, there is no character to the sound, no unique sonic element that sets the record apart from any other Technical Death Metal record. Odious Mortem attempted to drop the more simplistic instrumental devices found on their earlier releases for a more refined, focused vision, however, that vision is lacking in its thematic concept, leaving only the charred remains of an unfortunate could-have-been. The tight-bond between Brutal Death Metal and Technical Death Metal is almost irrelevant to this case, for both elements are present, yet Synesthesia lacks an interesting perspective on either. If you’re looking for a package of semi-technical, relentless but seamless Death Metal, look no further. Just don’t expect anything else.
Odious Mortem - Synesthesia was released Jan. 17th from Willowtip 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.