It is beyond question that Psycroptic‘s The Scepter of the Ancients is one of the best technical death metal albums ever made. The tight songs, expansive feel, and virtuoso vocal performance (courtesy of Matthew “Chalky” Chalk) made it a landmark in the genre, catapulted Psycroptic into the global spotlight, and established a high water mark that the Chalky-free band could never quite match. Since Psycroptic helped put the Australian metal scene on the map, several acts like Ne Obliviscaris and Ulcerate have become darlings of the metal scene worldwide, experimenting with their own unique sound. But whatever happened to the rabid, thrashy tech-death that first emerged from Tasmania?
It’s as alive as ever. Not only are Psycroptic still putting out good1 and killer2 albums, but Chalky’s new band Mephistopheles is going strong, and the upcoming sophomore effort from Lacerta absolutely kicks ass. Lacerta takes the Scepter formula and runs with it, producing an album that, while derivative, is more than welcome. Eschewing the byzantine, winding technicality of modern Psyroptic for a straightforward Morbid Angel inspired riffing ideal, these songs are memorable, brutal, and devoid of the specter of wank that hangs over so many tech-death albums.
“Pillars of Deceit” takes a moment to get going, but everything after the 1:30 mark is complete quality, with tremolo Psycroptic riffs and – believe it – a tapped bass lead rounding out the first half of the song. Right off the bat, vocalist Gabe Latham impresses with a range of techniques and flair that obviously reference Chalky, and his gruff barks and bubbling screams push many of these songs from good into great territory. His pinched, nasal delivery in “Molecular Residue” kicks off a mid-paced burn that mixes vocal and riff contributions in perfect proportion; Latham takes the stage and the guitars play conservatively, but when he drops out, there’s a more ear-catching riff to be had. The leads that conclude the song show the strings finally taking over and making the most of their lack of competition.
Not every riff on Lacerta is a winner, but none of the songs feel unnecessary or wanting for good material. There are clear peaks in riffage, like “Incubation of Tyrants,” but no song out of place, with enough thrashy personality and punctuating squealies to fit in with the rest of the album. Lacerta do love their pinch harmonics, and most of the album’s really killer riffs have more than one thrown in. Combine that with the very present, chunky bass, and you have an album with an almost slam-like audio profile that still feels a lot like Psycroptic in their salad days. Yet at the same time, the rough, clear production and occasionally cheesy vocal tidbits — like the laughter in “Void of Shadows” — gives Lacerta a kind of ’90s sheen that’s very welcoming.
It might not knock your socks off, but Lacerta is an album I have trouble finding problems with. It’s quite telling that my biggest issue with this album is its self-invented nomem dubium. Lacerta is adequately brutal, has the riffs, and it’s fun and concise enough to spin twice in a row without feeling bored. It sounds like Psycroptic but has its own personality, and doesn’t try to pull off any stunts. Lacerta seem to know what they’re capable of and they execute it with energy, something this album positively exudes. While it’s not quite year-end material, Lacerta should appeal to a wide base of death metal fans, and it’s something I’ll likely come back to in the future.