France has become quite the hub for memorable extreme music in recent times: Deathspell Omega front a dissonant black metal current; Blut Aus Nord fluctuate between various avant-garde stylings but have been a driving force in modern black metal; Cowards fiercely object to perceived façades of beauty and political correctness in their hardcore-influenced anger. Now Antropofago has stepped up to the mark, attempting to wrestle the tech-death reins from their compatriots Gorod, new material from which has been notably absent. Æra Dementiæ is their second full-length release, straddling the line between straight-forward death, brutal death and tech-death, but principally falling in the latter. Gorod‘s A Perfect Absolution garnered strong acclaim from AMG, so can Antropofago continue this trend of French monstrousness?
In a word, no. Æra Dementiæ feels like tech-death with its soul stripped out. It’s as if a machine studied death metal, compiled all the necessary parts then welded them together [Just call it Fear Factory next time. – Steel Druhm]. It’s fast and percussive, with brutal growls, unrelenting bass beats and chromatic chord progressions. But these are worthless without appealing grooves, unbelievable technicality, or other USPs. There’s little to distinguish Antropofago from their contemporary competitors: they’re Archspire without the finger-searing, face-melting technical proficiency, Beyond Creation without the subtle melodic brutality, Spawn of Possession without the orchestral grandiosity, and Gorod without the diversifying jazz interludes. It’s impossible to recommend them above any of these others.
Examining the tracks on their own terms, they too are difficult to differentiate from their surroundings. Aside from a couple of exceptions (see below), there’s very little which is distinctive from song to song. Riffs which are rarely notable, near-constant aggression, and temporal regularity ensure that everything bleeds together. At some point between “Encounter with the Doppelgänger,” “Body Cell” and “Helter Skelter,” I found myself lost in fascination over the amusingly-shaped lunula on my right forefinger rather than the music, as it really is a bore to endure the majority of what’s on offer here.
My attention was briefly rekindled at the beginning of the title track in the middle of the album, which finally offered a reprieve from the incessant indistinct riffs. Some dynamic awareness is demonstrated, progressing through relatively subtle atmospherics and mid-paced variety. It continues into irrelevancy in the second half, but there is at least an attempt at something different. “God ov Fire” is the best track (disregarding the bold-faced use of “ov”), with an effective melody and counter-melody from 1:43, followed by perhaps the record’s strongest riff. The nifty violin transition with the prior track is one of few original moments on the album. Melmoth The Wanderer’s vocals are decent too, sounding as if he’s sucking all the oxygen from the room with his throaty growls.
The production doesn’t help the problems permeating Æra Dementiæ. The solid dynamic range score hides that the mixing is below standard: guitar lines run into each other, establishing a thoroughly muddy affair when everything is moving – it certainly exacerbates the issue of tracks bleeding together. Worst of all is the kick drum tone, which has all the impact of a kids’ tennis ball against Iron Man’s Hulkbuster suit. Considering the prevalence of percussion in tech-death, this is one of my biggest objections to the album. In all, this is a disappointing effort from the Frenchmen. Gorod have nothing to worry about for their upcoming fifth LP, and Antropofago‘s contribution to French extreme metal can be ignored. Bland and ineffectual, look elsewhere for your tech-death fix.