I’d like to begin this review by discussing the gigantic fucking roll that French-Canadian guitarist Phillipe Tougas is currently on. Starting with last year’s release from Serocs, he has played on three downright kickass albums, all favorably reviewed on this very website. His work with Zealotry gained my notoriously stingy tech/prog-death approval, and his bizarre Timeghoul and Demilich-inspired project Chthe’ilist is almost certainly going to make the Kronos year-end list. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, his longest-running band, the neoclassically-inspired tech-death outfit First Fragment, is finally dropping their first full-length album, exactly six months after this firestorm began with And When the Sky Was Opened. Unfuckingbelievable.
Longtime readers will be quick with comparisons here, so let’s get this out of the way; despite his immense recent output, Tougas is in no way the Vardan of prog-death, and like all of his recent outings, Dasein has a good chance of absolutely flooring you. Everything that made the group’s acclaimed 2010 EP The Afterthought Ecstasy great has been retained. Beginning with “Le Serement De Tsion” and relenting nearly an hour later in a Chthe’ilist-like explosion at the climax of “Evhron,” this album has more dynamism, intrigue, and above all, notes than anything you’re likely to hear until maybe the next Archspire LP. It’s the sort of album that I always wished Fleshgod Apocalypse would make1, full of Malmsteenian neoclassical wankery that’s tightly controlled by propulsive songs.
The title track “Dasein” is proof enough of the album’s potential, gliding into existence on a slick but dreamy almost klezmer-esque melody before the full band sets all knobs to ‘kill’ and really start shredding. The non-stop sixteenth note riffing manages to be so spectacularly pyrotechnic that the song’s screaming guitar solo is the least technical passage by far, and it’s followed by a fantastic bass solo section that shows that the band can really pull back and let one member shine. “L’Entité” follows with a flamenco introduction that’s obvious Kronos-bait, and completely works as such. First Fragment‘s ability to gracefully flow between not just riffs but rhythmic languages is best seen in this full-length instrumental song, but you’ll hear more great examples scattered throughout the album, like the swing stomp sections in “Le Serment De Tsion” and “Gula.”
Though Dasein is quite long, there isn’t a bum song on it, and even late in the album the band tucks surprises in among their mind-boggling riffery. Just when you think they’re running out of new ideas – as in the beginning of “Voracité (Apothéose, partie 1),” when a slasher film sample introduces a muddy instrumental passage – some solo or riff comes around to blow you out of the water completely. “Voracité” introduces a lead halfway through that, while somewhat buried in the mix, makes for a great backing track for sequential bass and guitar solos.
Though it’s the guitar work that really propels this album, the whole band is in on the gymnastics, and the drumming from Severed Savior‘s Troy Fullerton is prevented from stealing the show only because of how incessantly spectacular the string players’ performances are. But perhaps most charming is the work from otherwise unknown vocalist David Alexandre Brault-Pilon, whose all-French delivery matches the intensity and personality of the instrumental performances; his little spit-take at the end of “Le Serment De Tsion” is a truly charming moment and a mark of this album’s levity. But there’s even more to this album than performance, as its production is spot-on. the instruments are clean but far from computerized, and there’s enough space for the considerable dynamics in some of these songs to really shine through. Despite its near hour length, Dasein is barely fatiguing at all.
Dasein‘s incessant shredding and neoclassical flair set it apart form a North American tech-death scene that’s often too preoccupied with aliens2 and clean production3 to write inventive, progressive albums and seat the band rather comfortably next to European acts like Spawn of Posession and Gorod. And between Christian Muenzner popping in regularly for solos and the group effortlessly swinging between jazz and neoclassical influences, this might be the most fun and impressive tech metal out there, and a far cry from the po-faced posturing of the band’s peers. Dasein is vibrant and colorful, but still brutal and incredibly fast, managing both to impress and beguile even the hardest-to-please tech death pedants [Vardan‘s been quiet for a while. Somebody should check on him. – Steel Druhm].