“Masturbatory” is a great term to employ for mediocre tech-death. A major connotation of that word is pornography, which causes regular viewers to chase a high ever more filthy than the last. Eventually, so-called “regular” videos aren’t enough and something more extreme is needed, and those niches are filled by people who have surely disappointed their parents to the point of utter despair. Unlike pornography, tech-death isn’t a grave symbol of moral rot; my comparison here refers to the need for something ever more extreme, more difficult, and more seemingly impossible than experienced before. This brings us to America’s Origin, one of tech-death’s darlings. 2014’s Omnipresent was good, if not a bit forgettable; Kronos would greatly disagree with me on this, I’m sure. One thing we could agree on was the stunning amount of technical skill displayed by guitarist Paul Ryan and his nearly virtuosic crew, but is this warrant to care?
In terms of sound, little has changed in the Origin camp since Antithesis. The excessive hyper-blasting, the tandem bass and lead guitar sweeps and taps, the switch to chunkier riffs before going back into hyper-technicality; it’s all here in fine enough form. Of course it’s more restrained than Brain Drill (really, what isn’t?), but Origin still traffics in very clinical chaos. I never get the feeling that Ryan is going to flub a single note of a riff or lead, nor do I ever hang on the edge of my seat thinking that maybe, just this time, John Longstreth might lag behind or even lose the beat for a millisecond. This is controlled demolition as opposed to early Wormed’s runaway Hellfire missiles.
The most interesting ten minutes on Unparalleled Universe comes in the form of “Unequivocal.” It houses a latent sense of consonant melody, which is not something Origin is often given to. There’s something more concrete, more interesting, more human going on here than on the rest of Unparalleled Universe, and it’s the space-y Hate Eternal type chorus riff that hammers this home to my ears. While still technical, it’s more tremolo-heavy than sweep-, tap-, or arpeggio-heavy, making the transition to what sounds like Origin’s take on Dethklok-styled melodic death metal not just fitting but practically necessary. Ryan’s guitar is the clear focal point, almost in spite of Longstreth’s fill-heavy window dressing, culminating in a soaring and wholly consonant lead that sounds much brighter and hopeful than Hate Eternal’s gut-punch closer leads. The effect of this finale is, unfortunately, almost nullified by a so-so cover of Brujeria’s “Revolucion” rudely stumbling in immediately after. As if to add irritation to injury, “Revolucion” circa 2017 predictably uses samples of President Donald J. Trump because one wholly unnecessary Brujeria song unflatteringly referencing the forty-fifth President isn’t enough. The Hendrix ripoff “Star-Spangled Banner” butchery in the beginning is a bit lame as well.
There are other compelling moments on Unparalleled Universe, but fans will expect those, devour them, and impugn my rating below while detractors or the ambivalent will go about their merry way. I’m in the ambivalent camp, and “Burden of Prescience” is illustrative as to why. Basic and uninspiring Florida-style tremolo riffing is made “tech-death” by an arbitrary sweep flourish at the end of each repetition and incessantly technical drumming that verges on overplaying. Later, a decent slam riff rears its head and Longstreth essentially does an extended drum solo over it and then heads full-bore into blasting over that riff played via tremolo instead of palm-muted chords, nuking its effectiveness entirely. Origin embraces the groove later, but the surprise contrast has been revealed, fell flat, and then gets introduced again, rendering the whole enterprise not very compelling.
Like most of their other work, Origin’s latest doesn’t do much for me. Their technicality is bland compared to Cryptopsy, and their brutality is nowhere near early Decapitated or Hate Eternal. They do have their niche, but it simply isn’t one I care for. “But why would you review this album?” would be a valid question, probably asked by people who yearned for a much higher rating. Does it really matter what any of us say, though? Would it make a difference in anyone’s enjoyment of Unparalleled Universe had I given it 1.5 points higher? This is competent death metal that leaves me cold, but will doubtlessly please others.