Sentient Ignition burst onto the death metal circuit one year ago, dropping a two-track demo that caught the ears of everyone from MetalSucks to Toilet Ov Hell. Mixing melody, technical skill, and progressive intent, the demo delivered a product equal parts surprise and success. Enthroned in Gray is now tasked with living up to expectations set dangerously high for a band whose career spans 15 minutes and 52 seconds. 1 Fortunately, Sentient Ignition prove they can last on the big stage, parlaying sublime musicianship and a skilled touch into a debut with staying power.
Building on orchestral opener “Ascension,” “Enthroned in Gray” roils with classic melodic death riffing so convincing that you’d be forgiven for thinking you had flipped on The Black Dahlia Murder. A bevy of technical and progressive death elements join the fray, tied together neatly by the varied vocal performance of Sev Erist. Obscura-brand guitar-work develops along neo-classical lines, though the album’s peaks remind me of Cattle Decapitation in how effective a simple guitar direction can be. One guitar drives the melody while the other brings the beefy rhythms, a tandem that never fails to pull your arms back and ride you across foamy melodies like a surfboard. In a heartbeat, the music throttles back to a jazzy interlude both effective and suited to the atmosphere. This localized nuance reveals Sentient Ignition’s ability to deviate from the genre’s non-stop wall of wankery without losing its edge. “Black Lattice” furthers this heading, slowly playing Chris Rosset’s thrumming bass off of the darkness of In Mourning and Omnium Gatherum melodicism.
“A Thousand Ages” turned many heads on Sentient Ignition’s 2016 demo and for good reason. It combines the shattering scales of contemporaries like Allegaeon and Vale of Pnath with more Obscura grooves, launching itself into the stratosphere with a fantastic midsection. It’s one of the record’s purest moments of release; it also suffers from stunted development. The interlude that follows does not want for quality – it’s one of the record’s best – but it still cuts off a very promising direction. These lulls head off an all-encompassing riff barrage, but they also close off the potential of tracks like “A Thousand Ages” and headbobber “Grasp of the Infinite.” Previously, it was easy to understand the emphasis placed on maintaining internal balance; after all, the demo was meant to showcase their spectrum of talents. However, the trend’s expansion across Enthroned in Gray leaves Sentient Ignition only limited opportunities to carve brutality into your eardrums. Guitarists David Schönholzer and Albert Hu cut bright, compelling material, often as catchy as it is diverse. Their back half outburst on closer “Binding Time” never fails to boil my blood. Yet right when it should close out the album with a bang, the track pulls back, content to amble into the finish.
That same dichotomy of variation also appears in Erist’s vocals. His intonations are praiseworthy, but not without noting his diversity is both a strength and a weakness. His commanding lows recall In Vain’s Andrea Frigstad, while his highs tend toward Trevor Strnad of TBDM fame. Though the pair plays well off each other, Erist’s middle-third Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation) dimensions are never unhinged enough. Their vibes trend toward straight metalcore and stick out obliquely, popping up regularly across Enthroned in Gray’s Whack-a-Mole board. Given the strength of Erist’s other personas, excising the red-headed stepvoice should be an easy fix. Friend of the Guy and producer extraordinaire Zack Ohren (Fallujah, Immolation) offers a solid mix. Though clipping and general loudness hinders the builds and proggy digressions, I cannot quibble with the instruments’ positioning or tone, which handle both spacey diversions and all guns blazing with ease.
The record clocks in around 45 minutes and repeat listens fly by. The ease I feel in pushing play again and again is likely the strongest endorsement of Enthroned in Gray I can give. Overlooking youthful growing pains is simple, given the music’s fresh face and already impressive demeanor. The sky’s the limit for Sentient Ignition; I can’t wait to see where they go next.