The internet has created an interesting world where, no matter how esoteric what you do or like is, someone else is doing or enjoying the very same thing. On the one hand, this is great; it’s easier than ever to get recommendations on obscure Brazilian goregrind bands, because there’s a small online community devoted to just that. On the other hand, it’s a bit haunting to some types of people to be not whatsoever original in their tastes. It’s still possible to feel left out, though; a friend of mine likes to listen to videos showcasing various engines and how they sound, and I’ll never understand the appeal of that. There’s plenty of those videos though, because some international group of people love the glorious sound of 600 horses in 360p, emanating from the speaker of their Samsung smartphone.
Ribbing aside, the enjoyment of those engine videos derives from a commendably deep understanding of the technical workings of engines; it’s fascinating to see what people can do if you’re interested in that type of technicality, but boring to someone who cares about if their car is making worrying sounds and little else. Such is the case with technical death metal, at least to a degree. Music majors, people who play instruments and focus on technicality, and perhaps metal nerds generally will certainly love to delve into every nook and cranny of Continuum’s latest. Designed Obsolescence is middle-ground, accessible-yet-brutal-enough tech-death: not as violent and frenetic as Cryptopsy, not as absurd as Brain Drill, not as slammy as Wormed, not as melodic as Gorod, not as “hey-check-out-this-fretless-bass”-y as Obscura… the list goes on. It reminds me of Spawn of Possession and Decrepit Birth for what that’s worth, but some riffs and general ideas from nearly all the above bands make it into the mix.
The title track is great tech-death. A (relatively) simple and jarring lead is played over a stuttering riff and an impressive growl for a great cold open. Moving into the genre staple of spastically playing a bunch of half-riffs in quick succession with different drum beats, Continuum make this work and sound frantic and impactful, eventually doing a chugging bit that I liked, and then going into something that Emperor would have done on IX Equilibrium or Prometheus if Ihsahn was more into Suffocation and their ilk. It was this part of the track that jumped out and grabbed me, and which immediately sets it apart from the rest of the material here. “Theorem” is a good track too, probably because it’s the most kinetically impactful. The midsection sounds like Hate Eternal and Suffocation trying to write a song together with neither compromising their sound, making for a beefy, technical, and interesting segment.
The problem here, as with plenty of tech-death, is that when riffs sound like spastic scalar runs interspersed with a weird chord here and a dissonant part there, it becomes an exercise in genre aesthetics instead of songwriting. Continuum sure sounds like tech-death, but beyond that it’s hard to say just what Continuum sounds like. Put another way, there aren’t many riffs here that I could see someone playing for fun; rather, I could see it being learned as a technical exercise, which is fun for a select subset of people, but to what end? If it’s solely a technical exercise, we’re into engine video territory. If it’s because the riffs produce those emotions death metal tends to invoke—bravery, aggression, a feeling of power—then it’s been lost on me. What wasn’t lost on me is, on average, once per song a burly, heavy, and digestible riff rears its head and ends up sounding bigger, burlier, and heavier than it ought to because of the surrounding scalar spasms. “A History Denied” has one of my favorites of these.
I’d be remiss to say Designed Obsolescence was a bad album. While it’s on, the sheer speed and technical zaniness can, at times, be exhilarating. When the tempo drops and the chugs emerge, my head would involuntarily start to move. Continuum wisely sticks to death metal and keeps the prog low-key, meaning there aren’t forced-sounding jazz breaks or annoying vocoder bits. Instead, Continuum just plays death metal. It’s death metal of an unremarkable sort save for the level of technical skill on display. It’s meticulously produced and performed, as if engineers decided death metal lacked enough notes and variations per measure and set out to fix that issue. Technically outstanding, but overall merely palatable.