Allegaeon – Damnum Review

Today, dear reader, I take over review duties for the tech death band Allegaeon from our resident Eurotrash all around swell guy GardensTale. You see, Mr. Tale has twice reviewed these Coloradans, once for 2016’s Proponent of Sentience, and again for 2019’s Apoptosis, awarding both middling to poor scores. Apparently, this upset the powerful Allegaeon lobbyists in metal congress, because those comment sections got savage. GardensTale, this site, his mom, other writers, OUR moms; no one was safe from the blistering ire of the Allegaeonites. For months after each post, poor GardensTale would come to work a changed man, with sunken eyes and sallow cheeks, jumping at the slightest noise. We had to avoid similar sounding words like “allergies” or “galleon” in casual conversation at the risk of triggering a catatonic spell in our colleague. So when the band’s new album Damnum hit the promo pit and I saw the tragic resolve in those beady little Dutch eyes, I stood up and shouted “I’m Spartacus!” confusing the hell out of everyone. “I mean, I’ll review Allegaeon.” To which GardensTale bravely replied, “OK man, knock yourself out.” 

I come to Damnum fresh. Virginal, even. I’ve heard the band’s name knocking around for years but never listened to them until now. Normally, I might hesitate to make such an admission, but a fresh perspective is what’s needed here. Besides, the idea of further agitating a surly fanbase amuses me. I hear in Damnum an immensely talented tech death band with a few metalcore tendencies doing their level best to balance emotive power with densely layered songwriting, which isn’t easy. Much of that emotive power, which can also be read as “accessibility” when discussing tech death, is delivered via Riley McShane’s clean vocals, which I understand have considerably expanded since past releases. These combine with his guttural but well enunciated death growls and higher pitched blackened vocals to form a varied approach that matches the dynamic instrumentation which alternates between driving, heavy riffs and shredding lead guitars with lots of classical/Flamenco acoustic passages for seasoning. Song structures tend to be progressive, but Allegaeon aren’t afraid of throwing in an earworm chorus, as they do on “Of Beasts and Worms” or “Vermin.”

The strength of Damnum lies in the band’s impressive execution of layered compositions and tightly woven transitions that don’t rely entirely on surprise. Case in point are the vocal chants and guitar solo in “Blight” telegraphing the huge riff that stomps that song to an end. Even in the album’s clean stretches, energy is maintained at a high level so that a transition from acoustic guitars and clean vocals to distortion and growls never feels forced or over-reliant on the soft/loud trope. There’s rubber band tension stretching and snapping between the long clean passages of “Called Home” and the raging mid and late sections that match its themes of loss. A song like late standout “Saturnine” combines all the layers, the solos, the melodic trem-picked riffs and transitions into exactly what I look for in a tech death song: racing fire that never loses its emotional core.

All this said, there are choices here that range from “not my cup of tea” to “I’d rethink that if I were you.” The prime example of the former are McShane’s cleans. There’s no denying he’s a fine vocalist, but this is the kind of generic “good” singing that leaves me cold. I mentioned metalcore above, and it’s exactly this element I’m talking about. There are times the cleans remind me of the precious-to-angsty vocals you find in an adventure anime opening credits song. If that’s your jam, cool, but I’m the type to skip those sometimes cringey intros to see if Eren really does betray the Eldians, or if Thorfin ever kills that bastard Askeladd. Some cleans, like the harmonized singing early in “Called Home” really land, but for the most part, I simply tolerate them. More uncomfortable are the moments Allegaeon roleplay as a different band. There’s an eyebrow raising stretch where McShane does his best Archspire vocal on “The Dopamine Void, Pt. II”, which I’d steer WELL clear of if I were any other tech death band, as well as a jarring slam section on closer “Only Loss.”

I may not be a fan of the clean vocals, and there’s a lot of them, but ultimately more works for me than doesn’t on Damnum. It’s a bit long, and could lose a song at random without any change whatsoever, but the songwriting is fairly sharp and the playing is downright fantastic. Still, I wouldn’t say this experience has done enough to make me an Allegaeon stan. If I ever curb stomp GardensTale in the AMG parking garage, it will be for his taste in power metal, not for his takes on these guys.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: allegaeon.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Allegaeon
Releases Worldwide: February 25th, 2022

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