Listening to Oniric Delusions this past week got me thinking about vanilla ice cream. It’s a dessert that’s not so much widely loved as universally accepted as a reliable standby to other, more complex dishes. Proper application of toppings however can transform this most mundane of treats into something special and unique. When I learned that Banisher hails from Poland and markets themselves as extreme death metal, I couldn’t help but raise my expectations at least a little. For me, Poland is inextricably bound to its excellent death metal bands, and the prospect of a Vader-grindcore melding or a technical take on Behemoth had me intrigued. Taking into account that longtime guitarist Hubert Więcek was recently deemed talented enough to join the ranks of the legendary Decapitated on bass, I was left wondering: could Banisher be Poland’s next great death metal sundae? Or is the “extreme” death metal they promise really code for “double-vanilla?”
As it turns out, the answer isn’t quite so cut-and-dry, as Banisher introduces a few interesting ingredients to the genre formula yet ultimately fails to craft a unique recipe. What’s immediately apparent is that Oniric Delusions isn’t so much “extreme” death metal as it is technical; the entirety of the fret-board is explored in each song, and the whole thing is stuffed to the gills with intricate drum fills. Banisher’s greatest strength, however, lies not in their technical prowess but rather in their songwriting abilities, which is especially gratifying in a genre that too often prizes raw brutality and showy musicianship above thoughtful construction. Each song builds towards a logical conclusion by constructing a playbook of riffs that are modified throughout, and the record as a whole feels as though it was assembled with a purpose, with song variety increasing towards the end to create an album with a unique flow.
Solid construction aside, Oniric Delusions is ultimately damaged by just how “okay” everything sounds when it could so clearly be quite good, even great. There are some sprinkles of brutal and melodic death metal here, but not nearly enough to place Banisher within the same realm as Severed Savior or Arsis. It feels like the level of technicality on display is the bare minimum a death metal band could exhibit and still get away with being classified as tech-death; there are tempo and time signature switch-ups, but none of them are particularly surprising and not once was I blown away by the complexity of the riffs. No aspect of Oniric Delusions comes across as being particularly boring, but nothing here makes Banisher stand out from the glut of modern tech death acts.
The modern production is slick yet inoffensive; Szczepan Inglot’s aggressive vocals and Jacek Gut’s drumming are prioritized in the mix and they pack a punch, yet the guitar tone is bland (especially in the higher registers) and the bass is buried to undetectable depths. Still the level of clarity highlights the way that Więcek and Gut work in precise tandem, with the former’s staccato style complementing the latter’s relentless blast beats (complemented by tasteful implementation of cowbell.) Album opener “Axes to Fall” showcases this dynamic, with varied drum patterns and riffs that simultaneously crush and groove to make for some of the album’s most intriguing (though not terribly exciting) moments. The other major highlight is closing track “The Fatal Parable of a Certain Mercenary,” which throws a last-minute curveball by incorporating slower tempos and blackened melodies into the band’s repertoire. It’s a shame this track comes at the expense of Banisher’s most technical and brutal elements.
In the end, Oniric Delusions was a frustrating experience for me. It’s an enjoyable listen overall and the songs are all rock-solid in their construction (there are only seven of them, making for a breezy half-hour of decent death metal), but at the same time there’s just nothing here to grant Banisher a unique identity. If glimmers of the band’s genre-weaving capabilities and the members’ sheer precision is any indication, the band may be on the cusp of of something truly unique within the style. As it stands, Oniric Delusions is a decent diversion from genre mainstays, likely to satisfy diehard death metal junkies while ultimately falling under the radar of anyone in search of something a bit more fulfilling.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Deformeathing Records
Websites: banisher.pl | banisher.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/banisherofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 3rd, 2016