Every sub-genre of metal is susceptible to its own specific pitfall born of too much naval gazing. Tech-death, for instance, has a tendency to disappear up its own ass chasing clinical dexterity and self-seriousness. Admittedly, plenty of people seek out tech-death because they want to hear humans play music like a malevolent AI from the future. Personally, I like tech that maintains a sense of fun amongst the robotic onslaught, which is why Origin leaves me cold while last year’s The Beast of Nod still has me randomly singing along to “Potroast the Rhinoman.” Flub came to my attention earlier this year when a certain shopaholic I follow on Bandcamp, we’ll call him “Wayne,” picked up their 2014 EP Advent. Between the unique, if questionable band name and the unusually colorful cover art, I ventured a click and liked what I heard well enough to make a mental note for future releases. Lo and behold, 2019 sees the eponymous debut release by these Sacramento-based technicians.
Flub is something of a supergroup, with current and ex-members of Rivers of Nihil, Alterbeast and Vale of Pnath, though their sound is markedly different than the sum of their parts. Lyrically this is standard fare for the genre—subcategory fantasy—with the tale of a hero who is possessed at the end of his life by an entity bent on destroying Mother Nature herself, but musically Flub is a bit more colorful and damn near uplifting when compared to the members’ other bands. Make no mistake, there is still brutal death metal baked into this evil fruit pie, with big riffs and a dual low/high harsh vocal assault, but neo-classical flourishes and forays into world music lighten the mood significantly. Specifically, Flub draw frequently from cumbia, a folk/dance music from Central and South America, with origins in both Europe and Africa. This manifests compositionally in certain rhythmic progressions and in extensive use of xylophone, which may or may not be synthesized.
Opener “Last Breath” does everything required of it to set the “brutal but fun” tone for the songs that follow. A neo-classical twin guitar line leads to bouncy, chugging death riffs, semi-arpeggios, and a sudden detour into Afro-Spanish elements with a melody that’s a little on-the-nose, but fun nonetheless. “Blossom” opens with more cumbia-inspired rhythms, but settles into a more straight-forward tech-death groove from there. “Umbra Mortis,” an album highlight, does arguably the best job of integrating all elements at play on Flub, and includes a false ending that leads to something of a keyboard/guitar interlude. It feels intentionally theatrical in a way that nods to the album’s lyrical narrative as well as its musical themes. Production-wise, Flub has wisely taken a page from Relentless Mutation by letting each instrument have enough room in the mix to breath, giving it a clean, but not sterile sound.
While Flub sounds great overall and remains engaging throughout, I must confess the songs themselves are hard to recall when I’m not actively listening to them. A few of the cumbia-inspired melodies stick, but not the overall song structures. In this way, Flub falls short of similar releases in the genre—those by Æpoch and Archspire especially—that feature sneaky good hooks littered throughout their progressive movements. Closer “Wild Smoke” does come out swinging with both more memorable melodies and crunchy death riffage, but it arrives a bit late in the game. “Dream” is both the most straightforward and least engaging track, and it highlights another problem with Flub. At 27 minutes, the album is barely longer than an EP, which means any time spent spinning wheels is an outsized blow to the album’s overall quality.
There’s a lighter touch to Flub which stands in contrast to the band member’s other projects. I would go so far as to call it “whimsy,” and although our own brutal boi Kronos loudly declared his disdain for the very idea while casually shooting corgi puppies with a paintball gun when I floated that word by him in regards to Flub, I think it makes their brand of tech-death fun. A lack of memorable songwriting and a truncated run time holds Flub back from greater heights, but it’s a solid debut, and I hope this project continues to evolve in spite of the members’ extraneous band duties.1