When guitarist Christian Muenzner (Spawn of Possession, ex-Necrophagist) and drummer Hannes Grossman (Blotted Science, ex-Necrophagist) departed Obscura last year, needless to say I was pretty bummed. The duo was an integral part of the band’s sparkling technical and progressive death metal formula that yielded back-to-back masterworks in Cosmogenesis and Omnivium. So while Obscura’s future looks uncertain, the gifted pair have forged ahead with a brand spankin’ new outfit called Alkaloid featuring an all-star line-up comprising Danny Lunker (Aborted, ex-God Dethroned) on guitars, Morean (Dark fortress, Noneuclid) on vocals, and Linus Klausenitzer (Obscura, Noneuclid) handling bass. So do Alkaloid deliver on the promise of a ridiculously talented group of musicians, or is The Malkuth Grimoire yet another example of a star-studded line-up weaker than the sum of its parts?
Well first and foremost Alkaloid are clearly not content to slip into a comfort zone here. To the contrary, the band seems hellbent on making a lasting impression on the current metal scene with a fresh and unique sound that’s bravely adventurous, musically complex and downright exciting. No, this is not another indulgent wankfest of superior musicianship masking sub-standard song-writing, nor is it a run of the mill tech death album by any stretch of the imagination. In fact the term ‘technical death metal’ only scratches the surface of the Alkaloid experience. A fluid progressiveness and strong melodic sensibility is firmly embedded into the song-writing, while dark atmospherics and hypnotic and adventurous musical passages compliment the band’s burly death metal base. Speaking of which, there’s no shortage of warp speed thrashing, bruising double bass, and well placed blasts to satisfy the death metal fiend in us all. Despite the generally weighty length of many of the compositions, there’s an ample supply of catchy and interesting moments to recall and revisit.
Alkaloid’s deployment of monstrous grooves are some of the finest I’ve experienced in the wider death metal genre in recent years, such as the asteroid smashing groove on multifaceted opener “Carbon Phrases” or the doomy, space-age Morbid Angel lurch of “Cthulhu.” So as musically flashy, restrained and melodic as this album can be, the band’s heavier death metal urges are never far away. The Malkuth Grimoire is a stunning showcase of not only the immense talents of the individual musicians, but the overall experience and band chemistry they share as a unit. A point that bodes well for the future. Alkaloid’s music is rich in song-writing dynamics and innovation that shatters genre conventions and lends the album so much character. Although they differ significantly in execution, I’m fondly reminded of Wormed’s brilliant Exodtomos opus in regards to the album’s mind-bending musical traits, cool guitar effects and bleak futuristic tone. Grossman’s drumming is an overflowing well of creativity and stylistic variation, the inventive guitar work and fusion shred solos bend space and time, while Morean’s vocals comfortably match up with the album’s strong dynamics. His thick, formidable growls take center stage, however, he mixes things up admirably through his admittedly weird robotic cleans and half sung, half growled melodic vocal styles.
Unfortunately the drawn-out length of The Malkuth Grimoire takes away the enjoyment of experiencing the album in one complete sitting. The subject of poor self-editing and overblown album run times has been broached here at AMG on numerous occasions, and for good reason as it’s a frustrating blight on the current metal scene. Realistically with the daily grind and general busyness of everyday life, finding a whopping 73 minutes to dedicate to one album in a single sitting is an unrealistic expectation for the average metalhead or music fan. Obviously the band members had an absolute blast recording this material and getting the creative juices flowing, but perhaps they could have thought of alternative options for splitting the material up.
The spacious and vaguely experimental four part “Dyson Sphere” sequence could have been released in EP format without detracting from the cohesive flow of the album. On top of that, shave off the short and pointless solo shred of “C-Value Enigma” and you are left with a still hefty but much leaner and palatable 55 minute run time. Anyway, that’s just some food for thought and in defense of the band the material rarely dips below an exceptionally high standard from start to finish. The largely self-produced album, with mixing and mastering by V. Santura, captures the band’s sound very well, with the instruments nicely balanced in the mix and equipped with sharp, heavy tones and plenty of low-end muscle. However a more consistently dynamic recording, particular during the blastier sections, would have been welcome.
I was a little slow on the uptake on the release of Alkaloid’s debut album, following a successful crowdfunding campaign. So this mind-bending juggernaut of doomy, progressive and experimental technical death metal has surprised and subsequently floored me. Alkaloid have crafted something special and unique here that should not be passed up by fans of highly original and inventive technical and progressive death metal.