Generally speaking, brutal and slam death are tough pills for me to swallow. It’s not that my ears are hyper sensitive to the trademark extremity of the style, but rather the cartoonish brutality, often amateurish musicianship and lack of song-writing smarts results in many bands dissolving into a forgettable slop of unrefined mediocrity. Inevitably there are exceptions, particularly when the slam grooves and relentless brutality are attached to memorable, catchy songs and top-notch musicianship. Sci-fi themed juggernauts Artificial Brain and Wormed’s most recent offerings were prime examples of brutal death done right, filtered through a technical lens. They each managed to successfully fuse brutality with interesting lyrical themes and dynamic, complex compositions that were simultaneously challenging, rewarding and extremely heavy. Now with San Antonio’s Abhorrent dropping their anticipated debut album Intransigence on the masses during the latter stages of 2015, they firmly established themselves as another heavyweight contender of intelligent and brutal tech-death.
Abhorrent come well credentialed, featuring a line-up of bassist Erlend Caspersen (Spawn of Possession), drummer Lyle Cooper (Absurdist, ex-The faceless), guitarist Marlon Friday (Absurdist) and vocalist Nick Brown. Following the restrained, gradual unfurl of instrumental opener “Passage,” which early on establishes the significant weight and presence of Caspersen’s formidable bass skills, the album kicks into overdrive with the chaotic opening salvo of “The Elegance of Asymmetry.” It’s a choppy but somehow cohesive ripper that lays the platform for the rest of the album. Abhorrent stab, bludgeon and pirouette their way through dense, complex and pleasingly dynamic compositions that move from point to point with aggressive, head-spinning fluency. Moments of restrained, jazzy ambiance and mellowed-out noodling serve the album well, adding a welcome element of surprise, while the jittery riff and tempo changes keeps the listener on their toes.
As brutally uncompromising as Intransigence consistently proves to be, Abhorrent transcend the more typical aspects of brutal death, offsetting their gut-punching, hyperactive delivery with more measured pacing, strange melodies and bursts of off-kilter dissonance. These interesting elements are perhaps best utilized on the stupendous “A Lightness of Mind,” a gloriously technical, groovy and offbeat number, featuring a noodly, jazz-infected break and the delightful vocal talents of Matthew “Chalky” Chalk (ex-Psycroptic, Mephistopheles – new album soon please?). Although certain songs and parts of the album are less memorable than others, there’s rarely a dull moment and the constantly twisty songwriting dynamics and mind-boggling musicianship makes for a highly entertaining listen. Even the album’s run-time is suitably concise for this kind of violently intellectual battering of the senses.
Intransigence is an undeniably strong album, particularly within the brutal tech-death field, but is not without a couple of issues. Musically there are loads of notable catchy moments to wrap your head around and the choppy density of each arrangement and occasional curveball thrown into the mix bodes well for replay value. This of course doesn’t necessarily translate to songs you’ll be humming along to or easily recalling once the boulder hurling tornado has subsided. Meanwhile the production’s ample good points, including that killer bass sound, heavy as fuck guitar tone and overall organic sound are countered by yet another compressed metal recording which fails to capitalize on the rich dynamics of the music itself.
Abhorrent’s Intransigence ticks all the right boxes for listeners that like their brutal death served with a healthy dose of groove and brain melting technicality. Fans of the style should not leave disappointed.
Tracks to check: “Reward System Malfunction,” “A Lightness of Mind,” “Larva”