If you’ve never heard Beyond Creation‘s debut The Aura, honestly, what are you doing with your life? Are you happy with who you are? Because you damn well shouldn’t be. The Aura is, and I have no reservations in saying this, the best death metal debuts since Onset of Putrefaction. It also might be the best technical/progressive death metal album this decade has yet to offer. Out of complete fucking nowhere, a bunch of flaxen-locked French-Canadians self-released what might just be the pinnacle of modern tech-death. It’s brutal, it’s heavy, it’s overpowering, astonishing, and inventive, yet there also exists nuance, care, and maturity in the writing and performances that is completely unparalleled. The album is damn near perfect.
This means, sadly, that Earthborn Evolution is doomed from the start. No matter how good this sophomore release turns out to be, the sheer weight of precedent will render it slightly disappointing for most listeners. It’s like comparing apples to cyanobacteria; sure, in many ways I like apples a lot better, but they’re never going to be more important than their predecessors. Luckily, the discerning listener can still take Earthborn Evolution for what it is; yet another great album, full of new ideas and packing a distinct personality. Beyond Creation know that they’re unlikely to replicate The Aura and so they’ve opted to try something slightly different. Earthborn Evolution packs a very different punch than The Aura, one that’s a bit more abstract, a bit less accessible, but still recognizable; we have turned the other cheek, and in response the band has struck us with their other hand.
For those who aren’t despicable casuals and have, at this point, heard The Aura a few times through, you know how “No Request for the Corrupted” immediately puts your head through a wood-chipper and then bakes a soufflé with the detritus? “Elusive Psychological Reverence” employs a similar strategy, but with a bit less brutality than the original. It’s one hell of an opener, and like its predecessor takes weird turns constantly. Strangely, though, it just doesn’t hit in the same way that “No Request for the Corrupted” did. It’s a bit proggier, and with that a tiny bit less gratifying.
There are some incredibly good songs to be had on the album; “Neurotical Transmissions” boasts a tapped interlude that strikes fresh every time you hear it and one of the album’s most memorable solos [and one of the most common English as a Second Language mistakes in the book – AMG], and “The Great Revelation” is as ass-kicking as it is succinct. The band plays on their strengths throughout the album, pushing the trademark guitar/bass interplay that made The Aura so tantalizing and whipping out weird melodies left and right, but it turns out to be a bit much. The constant shifts in melody and very busy compositions make for an album that’s often difficult to follow and emotionally detached. In their drive for more challenging compositions and weirder sounds, the band has distanced this album from the emotions that death metal is so good at capturing. Earthborn seems unsure of its own intentions, falling back on more obtuse writing to obscure its occasional lack of direction. While it’s no Dream Theater production, it often feels like that’s where the album is headed. These defects should come as no surprise. While The Aura was very focused and didn’t suffer from them, its avoidance of ineffective writing was one of the main reasons for its success. In a genre where a baseline of ponderous composition is taken for granted, it impressed because that kind of writing was altogether absent.
The good news is that for all of the album’s missteps in writing, there is not a single misstep in performance or production. Dominic “Forest” Lapointe still writes the best bass riffs and melodies in the genre and his peerless performances are not only very audible, but central to the album’s mix. The guitars sit well on top of it and concatenate the album’s stop-and go riffing and quieter, more chordal moments seemingly without effort, as seen on “Abstract Dialog.” Phillipe Boucher’s drumming takes a slight hit in prominence on this album, but that may be more due to the much less groove- and riff- oriented material that the drums have to match.
While Earthborn Evolution is anything but a slouch, and I have to recommend it based on its best moments, it’s a whole lot less visceral than The Aura. Prog aficionados will love its constant complexities and expert interplay, but brutalists will have only the occasional moment of extreme heft to cheer for. Sitting somewhere in between, I can’t say that the album is the end-of-the-year material that I had hoped for, but that’s no reason to reject it. Earthborn Evolution is about as worthy of your time as anything this year, but it won’t be as worthy of your time next year as The Aura will be in the next decade. Beyond Creation really did bring this upon themselves, but in the best possible way.