California’s Anisoptera have a lot going for them. Or, rather, as of the likely publish date of this review, they had one thing: an opening slot for Exist, Inferi, Beyond Creation, Archspire, and Obscura when the tech-death mega tour blasted its way through Oakland. Jørn knows that’s a lot of pressure, and to make matters worse, the band released their debut, Spawn of Odonata at that very show. So the question arises, do they really have what it takes to hang with such barons of brutality, the luminaries of legerdemain and experts in expedition?
Well, here’s where temporality rears its ugly head. As of now, having listened to Spawn of Odonata many times, I can pretty safely assume that the answer is a resounding no. Yet by the time this review goes live, I’ll have witnessed the duo do their damnedest to prove me wrong on stage. While it’s true that plenty of artists come across much better in one format than the other, any band that sounds this unpolished on record probably sounds just as bad live.
At the very least, Anisoptera‘s take on progressive death metal has enough creativity to fill up an album. Jazzy breaks, winding riffs, and adventurous vocals all battle for space in Spawn of Odonata, and the duo stretch themselves into underutilized techniques and attack songs at odd angles. The best (and worst) example of their work here comes in “Aerial Predator,” the album’s most ambitious cut by far. It’s obvious from the opening riff that guitarist Randall Krieger knows what he’s doing, and just seconds later it’s even more obvious that vocalist Robby Perry does not. Throughout the song and the album, Perry does his damnedest to mimic the melodic screaming and growling of Cattle Decapitation‘s Travis Ryan and falls flat on his gaping face doing so.
Ranging from acceptable to unlistenable, the vocal performances of Spawn of Odonata obliterate the goodwill built up by its guitar playing. Perry’s attempt to emulate Travis Ryan goes horribly awry, with the man not only choosing nonsensical melodies but compounding their failure by butchering them. He swings around pitches tunelessly, regurgitating arhythmic oinks and barks at total odds with the material that he’s mixed over. To make matters worse, the band took no pains to mask an obviously programmed drum performance, piping sterile samples into gridded patterns that do little more than underpin riffs. Even the most dynamic guitar playing can easily be deflated by such canned drumming, and the drumming pops Spawn of Odonata like a caltrop through your sidewall.
Anisoptera need a drummer, but perhaps more crucially, they need a producer. Someone to tell Perry to work on his singing or at least do a few more takes. Someone to tell Krieger not to tack a low-fidelity acoustic guitar solo on to the end of his death metal album. Someone to cut the fat and be the person to say no. The duo could learn a lot from looking to their idols for this; Cattle Decapitation members seem enamored with the impact that Dave Otero had on their last two albums, and videos of their time recording Monolith of Inhumanity can give us all a glimpse of how he helped the band tweak, twist, and temper their material and performances to make that album something of a modern classic.
There’s enough talent between Krieger and Perry to make up half a death metal band, but not enough focus to make up a half-good one. Without an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, the duo seems doomed to push under-cooked music despite being capable of more. Sure, a proper producer might not fit an independent ethic (though releasing their first LP without label support could mean that or any number of other things), but a drummer and/or a bassist sure does. Adding one or both of these surely holds enough votes to put the hammer down on Perry’s pitiful impressions.