The forefathers of death metal were truly spoiled when it came time to come up with a kick-ass band name. The genre’s progenitors ran wild with synonyms for various acts of violence and bits of viscera (not to mention those nerds who pulled inspiration from Warhammer 40k), but when the thesaurus has fallen to tatters, where does a budding young death metal band pull its inspiration from? In the case of Chicago’s Polyptych (\pol-ip-tik\ n a work of art composed of several connected panels), the answer is to forego the gore and dedicate their moniker to what makes their sound unique. Sporting a unique brand of blackened tech-death with touches of doom metal, Polyptych may not have the sickest band name this side of Florida, but that matters naught because Defying the Metastasis is, musically and thematically, really damn good.
Polyptych’s previous release Illusorium carried a weightier feel than this one thanks to a decent helping of doom metal, and while that aspect of their sound has been dialed back, Defying the Metastasis is no less effective. The band’s ability to seamlessly blend death and black metal recalls Akercocke and Voices primarily, but with an added layer of modern tech death a la Gorod and a touch of widdly Krallice riffs on the black metal end of things. Polyptych would have had something special on their hands if they had stopped there, but with the addition of occasional, subtle synths and industrial ambiance to underscore the dense, winding riffs, they manage to add a layer of nuance to their stacked sound. The result is an album that doesn’t sound quite like anything else out there, and with excellent lyrics chronicling life in a fictional totalitarian state (which reads like literature at times), Defying the Metastasis oozes with confidence on both a compositional and conceptual level.
Unique though Polyptych may be, Defying the Metastasis is still a death metal record at its core, and at nearly an hour in length it’s a lot of death metal to digest. The entire package is so solid throughout though that it’s difficult to pinpoint tracks that could have been trimmed to facilitate a shorter run time, and I have a feeling that a bit more diversity would have made the length more palatable. That’s not to say that this album is anywhere close to monotonous, but considering the two best tracks on the record are also its most unusual (the doomy, almost Tryptikonian “Crimson Halls” and the post-black metal influenced title cut), the near-constant barrage of tech-death feels slightly like a missed opportunity.
I realize that an hour of tech-death likely sounds like an immediate turn-off for the Necrophagistphobic out there, but rest assured that what Polyptych aimed for was a complex and richly layered album that feels far less masturbatory than their contemporaries. Fully explaining how the band accomplished this requires digging into the production, and oh my god, Defying the Metastasis sounds fucking incredible. The mix is balanced perfectly, with the bass serving as prominent a role as the guitars. With the band performing three or four unique guitar and bass parts simultaneously for much of the album, it could have sounded like a catastrophic mess, but considering that each component is totally discernible throughout, I’d call this a production miracle. Add in stunning use of stereo sound and an above-average DR for the genre, as well as lightly fuzzed tones and punchy drums that appropriately straddle the line between black and death metal, and you have what’s likely the best sounding death metal record this year.
Defying the Metastasis is not a perfect album, and I feel that Polyptych has a bit of tinkering to do in the variety department before they can compose their magnum opus. As I’ve now listened to both this and the band’s last album extensively (yeah, they made me a fan), however, I can say with confidence that Polyptych is a supremely talented group that doesn’t shy away from album to album experimentation and will continue to perfect their sound. Until then, grab your wallet and a good pair of headphones; Defying the Metastasis stands with this year’s Chthe’ilist and Blood Incantation offerings as a shining example of forward thinking death metal in 2016, and I can’t wait to see what these guys cook up in the future.