Yeah baby, a new decade! Everything we did wrong last decade, we’re gonna fix that, you know what I mean? Flannel — it’s gone. Outta here, goodbye. Washington, you’re done. We’re basing the Zeitgeist outside of the Pacific Northwest. New people, new places. It’s gonna be sick! We’re gonna have war in the Middle East predicated on total fabrications! Let’s hear it for world inaction on climate change! Every tech-death band will be from California for some reason! Let’s go, baby, I’m ready to start the 2000s off right! I…
Time is a flat circle shipped to us in an extremely brittle jewel case. On this rotation, our laser is scanning data from a Californian tech-death band that took the last decade off to surf.1 No, it’s not Brain Drill2 — they actually released an album in 2016. It’s their congenerss in the Decrepit Birth species complex, Severed Savior Odious Mortem. Synesthesia is their first release since 2009, and the years have not changed them whatsoever. They still sound like Decrepit Birth, or, if you want an outgroup comparison, like a cross between Suffocation and Spawn of Possession. Same American nastiness as the former, but without the breakdowns. Same intricate guitar work as the latter, but without the sense of narrative. If you’ve heard Devouring the Prophecy or Cryptic Implosion, you know what you’re getting here.
Going back through those records stirred memories of my early years when a young Kronos was just discovering tech death and death metal in general. It hadn’t graced my ears in a decade, but I knew “Gestation of Worms” when I heard it in all of its Necrophagist-worshipping glory. Sure, Odious Mortem were at times incoherent,3 but they had serious chops, and those are still pretty sharp in 2020. “Cave Dweller” shows off some mathy Necrophagist riffing, “Synchronicity” boasts a trippy, neoclassical introduction, and “Eagle’s Tower” ends with a twisting solo over an already slippery lead. The songs are a bit slower, or at least less flashy, than the cuts from Cryptic Implosion, but it’s still the same band or at least a closely related and difficult to distinguish one.
So what’s the catch? Those highlights are strung out across a cavalcade of rhythm riffs that are both uninteresting and virtually indistinguishable from each other. Short phrases that begin with quick palm-muted notes and end with two or three plucks of a higher string, then dive back into it. Songs usually have one stand-out moment that these riffs pick a few notes from, but most of the tracks still end up feeling a bit directionless, padding out space around the climax with that song’s variation on an off-the-shelf tech rhythm riff.
Odious Mortem are playing death metal like it’s the 2000s, so they had it produced in a contemporaneous manner. Although Richard Houghton did a fine job on the master, the mix falls for a few classic death metal blunders: close to zero bass presence, kick drums that bleed into the lower end of the guitars, indistinct blast beats. It’s really bringing me back. What’s more, I get the feeling that when Houghton boxed up the final master for Synesthesia to send it off to Willowtip he threw in too many silica packets. Next time you drop your Blackberry in the toilet, forget the rice — set it in front of a good stereo with Synesthesia on loop and you’ll be breaking bricks again within a few hours.
What’s worse, Anthony Trapani’s mid-range growl actively detracts from the album. His slow phrasing would work much better for someone with a deep, powerful gurgle, but even with a nastier tone, I can’t see his contribution as anything more than an afterthought to these compositions. The songs change so rapidly and are so devoid of sonic space or memorable repetition that I have a hard time imagining what effective vocal lines in most of Synesthesia would sound like. When the band gives Trapani a little time off, like in “Synchronicity,” I find the music much more engaging — it really feels like the vocals on most of these songs aren’t meant to be there.
Synesthesia follows the general formula of an Odious Mortem release, a particular spin on the sounds of more old-school 2000s Californian tech death. And, surprise surprise, it’s not any better than the rest of those albums. I suppose I like this formula a bit more than the squeaky-clean style best practiced by The Faceless in their heyday, but it hasn’t aged any better, and Odious Mortem hasn’t done anything particularly interesting with it. A few cool leads and solos can’t elevate an album based on so many tired riffs and boring vocal lines. It’s cool for Odious Mortem that they got their shit back together and released a new album, but I would rather leave this kind of tech death in the past.