Ah, Unique Leader records, what would we do without you? I’d certainly be out an unpaid reviewing job, and I’m sure Par Olafsson and Zack Ohren would see a lot less business. As the biggest player in the tech death/deathcore economy, the label is perhaps the best place to look to see what’s big in death metal with clean production and sweep picking, and the visual, musical, and production styles of the genre are always centered on whatever the label is putting out in a given year. And while I’ve been far from hesitant to voice my opinions on those styles over the years, in a way it’s nice to have an institution that both embodies and propels the zeitgeist. Tirades and drinking games notwithstanding, I’m always game to snatch up the label’s next release, and in this case it’s the sophomore effort from Sacramento-based1 Alterbeast.
Immortal, the band’s debut, started strong but faded fast. While the opener’s mix of The Black Dahlia Murder and Cytotoxin worked brilliantly, the band struggled to establish an identity in the ensuing tracks, jumping from flaccid stabs at neoclassicism to second-rate pit riffs, all, of course, played with great precision by guitarist Andrew Lamb. An identity crisis in a band’s first LP hardly raises eyebrows – a lot of groups have trouble finding their footing at first – and so I was hopeful that Feast would be their chance to make Alterbeast a name worth remembering. Yet with the band’s lineup now pared down to what’s basically a solo project — a bellweather of drops in quality if there ever was one – things don’t look good going in.
Indeed, Feast is a mess. A brutal, highly technical mess, but a mess just the same. Lamb’s legerdemain predictably takes the head and leads the body through all sorts of odd adventures, from brutal deathcore to bizarre Iron Maiden worship in tech-death form, splattering itself in all of the tropes that Alterbeast‘s labelmates have to offer.
The first ten seconds of the album sound pretty promising as “Welcome to Your Doom” opens with a Fleshgod Apocalypse-inspired neoclassical line, but the song can’t sustain that quality long. Simplistic drumming and less inspired riffs bring it down quickly, as they do the rest of the album. “Apex Night Eclipse” lives up to its word salad title with whining electronics and plenty of open-string chugging — a holdover from “The Maggots Ascension,” which limply pantomimes Dying Fetus. There are good ideas to be had here, but Lamb seems to have a hard time figuring out what to do when he’s not blasting out solos – which are to be sure the best part of this album. “Feast” lapses into d-beat a couple times, which was certainly an inspired choice, but then there are the ill-founded experiments and empty-sounding passages of shred that other instrumentalists would have put a stop to. One of the worst offenders is the six and a half minute, NWOBHM-flavored “Where Dead Angels Lie,” the entirety of which is played as — I kid you not — a slip jig.
“Where Dead Angels Lie” terminates in a flurry of excess that rightly should have ended the album, yet Feast still has more to give. The oddly-placed closer “Upon the Face of the Deep” pulls out the album’s very finest Black Dahlia Murder riff and leans on it hard. Were this actually a Black Dahlia Murder song, you’d hear this riff in the intro, Trevor would start screaming over it after two repetitions, the band would tag the next repetition with a different ending move on to a secondary riff pretty quickly. Alterbeast get the formula right for the most part, but those little details that you get from a more experienced group just aren’t there. Moreover, the song’s momentum is seriously imperiled by a black metal midsection. As usual, Feast pulls in too many different directions.
And that’s all there is to say about this album. While certainly not lacking in variety, Feast can’t settle into a sound and spends far too much time reaching for points of reference in far more established death metal acts. The lack of real drum writing is painfully obvious, as is the lack of multifaceted creative input. More than anything, Feast sounds like a demo tape from a bedroom shred project; just a talented guitarist trying to emulate their heroes without a sense of self or direction.