Exocrine – Maelstrom Review

Are you ready for a hot take? I enjoy deeply of Exocrine’s Molten Giant. Regardless of the criticisms it received in the linked review, I return to that record still, twenty-two months after it’s initial release. Tight, jagged and delightfully choppy, Exocrine delivered a big sleeper with Molten Giant. It looked like stock tech-death, sounded like stock tech-death, and stepped on just about every mine littering the tech-death field. Yet, it put a big, stupid grin on my big, stupid face. The French four-banger decided to go with a water-type Techy-mon for their fourth installment, Maelstrom. Are its moves super effective?

One thing’s for sure. Exocrine pull out all of the stops with this new album. The trademark Exocrine arpeggios and Metroid-adjacent synths that I love so much remain fully intact as always. Compositions take an unexpected direction from that point, however, where many cuts swell amongst waves of symphonic flourishes, with just a bit of jazzy froth over top. In order to offset these added layers, Exocrine simplified their riffs enough to bridge the gap between straightforward death and hypermodern tech without overloading on wankery. The band also reduced lyrical cringe compared to the last album, but you’ll be hard pressed to care because, you know, death metal.

Opener “Maelstrom” is a bit of an outlier. The song smacks of Exocrine, but it features a punchy main riff; a few hooky clean choruses which never show up again; and a deep-sea aesthetic which gets watered down in subsequent tracks. Nevertheless, the sole purpose of “Maelstrom” is to dig hooks into your face with prejudice, and in that it succeeds. Further down the line, “Abyssal Flesh” proffers grandiose orchestrations and a big, protein-powered riff near the end to fuel the listener for the next few songs. In a way, the song foreshadows Maelstrom’s big twist—trumpet solos! Trumpets surface during quiet moments in the second half of the record, which are surprisingly effective in giving Maelstrom its lonely seafarer personality. Nowhere is this more evident than in leviathan closing duo “The Chosen One” and “Galactic Gods,” which boast massive riffs built upon jazzy foundations and decorated with that emotive trumpet, qualifying the couplet for -of the Year contention.

If you can’t already tell, I fell head-over-heels for the trumpet on Maelstrom. I don’t often think of something as counter-intuitive as a brass instrument as a defining attribute on a tech-death record, but Maelstrom is so much stronger for it. Unfortunately, that makes some of the other material forgettable because they lack an evolutionary link to connect them to the rest of the album. All but the very end of “Wall of Water” falls short for this exact reason, failing to move the needle past the point already established on Molten Giant. “Orbital Station” and “Starvation Project” suffer from similar shortcomings—lackluster riffing and recycled songwriting which fails to take advantage of the new elements introduced earlier in the album. “The Wreck” is particularly frustrating because a magnificent trumpet solo is tacked on to the end. Why not integrate that feature into the main body and build the song around it, making it the climax it deserves to be?

In the end, Maelstrom is an interesting evolution from Molten Giant but not quite the follow up I hoped for. The addition of brass and a light touch of jazz suits Exocrine’s existing base swimmingly, but the band could push it much farther for a greater payoff. Molten Giant was more consistent and featured big boi riffs almost everywhere. Here the execution is more scattershot, but the highs soar above everything else the band have put out so far. What I’m looking for now is an Exocrine record which summons everything I dig from both Molten Giant and Maelstrom together into an unstoppable monstrosity. Get kraken!

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: PCM
Label: Unique Leader
Website: facebook.com/Exocrine
Releases Worldwide: June 26th, 2020

« »