“I thought I told you I was on vacation,” I replied testily, doing my best to keep eyes locked on the glistening brown orbs buried in Steel Druhm‘s simian visage. It was no use; Steel cannot be bent.
“Vacation happens as the Angry Overlord sees fit. You took the oath, don’t break it. And there’s more. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the arduous hazing process…”
My left elbow tingled slightly. “Well what is it you want me to do?”
“What you were hired to do,” Steel replied flatly, “Review German brutal death metal.”
His furry hand slid a promo across the ebony desk’s mirrorlike surface. The envelope read “… Unique Leader Records.”
I stood up to leave.
“There’s a new Pyrrhon record coming out.”
I stopped, weighing my puny options. “…What was this German band again?”
Cytotoxin, back five years after 2012’s Radiophobia and thankfully not much altered. The same slammy riffing, the same unsparing vocals, the same troubling nuclear disaster fetishism, and the same hyper-fast sweep picked leads – but this time there’s more of them. “Radiatus Generis” wastes no time establishing this, as guitarists Jason Melidonie and Fabrice Töpfer charge through fifteen notes in the first second of the album. They keep going, and after the opener plays out with a Geiger counter-esque ticking gradually joining the final riff, there are few moments devoid of wizardry.
That might read like a transition into complaints about unnecessary technicality, but here’s where Cytotoxin really set themselves apart from similar bands: they write good songs. Songs with melody, personality, and a sense of drama that’s rare in a pigeonholed sub-genre where bands chase down the offensive and the spectacular at the same time. Take the grandiose and bleak opening of “Chernopolis,” which gradually marches downwards into a huge slammy groove, then takes off again at speed. It’s seven minutes long and works because it has structure: the band holds on to riffs for a while, sliding different leads and drum patterns around them, and bringing them back into the mix often. “Chemopolis” even has two guitar solos for good measure, both of which do a great job of differentiating themselves from the album’s hyper-flourishing leads.
Much like Radiophobia, Gammageddon has pretty much everything you might want out of brutal tech death. Guitar pyrotechnics are always backed up by an equally techy line popping out of a present and well-rounded bass. The kick drum sounds like a kick drum, the snare punches right through the mix without being overbearing, and the kit just sounds downright brutal, even in the understated fill before the end of “Gammageddon.” As always, Sebastian Grihm puts out a vocal performance that few could match, hitting every point between gurgling slam gutturals and pig squeals while managing to enunciate remarkably well in his mid-range. I have little to complain about in terms of performance and production, but as usual, this is an album that’s a bit of a chore to listen to all the way through because it’s so goddamn compressed. At 39 minutes it’s still within acceptable bounds for something this brutal, but I find myself a bit fatigued by the time “Antigenesis” comes around. This is an album I’d gladly listen to twice in a row if it was even DR8, but alas it is not so.
Gammageddon succeeds where it needs to and, save for a standard level of overcompression, it avoids the typical issues with brutal tech death. I may not love the master and still think the band’s whole Chernobyl schtick falls into the “too soon” category, but neither will stop me from recommending this album. Cytotoxin once again failed to make the bad album that one might expect given a band with this many gimmicks, and as far as hyper-tech metal goes, this is the album to beat in 2017. If you’re disappointed by this year’s tech death offerings, 1 Gammageddon might win you over still.