It’s good to have friends in high places; for prospective subjects of a review here, that means being buddies with an Angry Metal Guy hall of famer. Such were the means by which I became aware of Parius, a melo-prog-tech death metal act that shares a state — and on multiple occasions, a stage — with fellow Pennsylvanians Lör, the toppers of this blog’s 2017 aggregated list. Their enthusiastic social media plugging of Parius’ second LP, The Eldritch Realm, intrigued me as it came from a group that clearly has an ear for talent. Plus, given the record’s title, it would have been an irredeemable crime to not cover it personally. So strap in, fuckers: it’s time to enter The Eldritch Realm, as well as The Eldritch Realm, an astonishingly efficient offering of forward-thinking metal that’s bound to turn some heads in the sphere of American progressive death metal.
The distinction between progressive death and tech death is an important one when discussing Parius since, though they clearly dabble in the latter genre, their overarching aesthetic is firmly planted in the former. Though not an accurate comparison point sonically speaking, Replacire comes to mind in their shared ability to seamlessly splice countless influences. Within this Realm lie notable traces of The Black Dahlia Murder’s blistering brand of modern American melodeath and the noodly technicality of Obscura/tech death flavor of the week, but there are also flashes of Between the Buried and Me’s distinct vocal atmosphere in the clean singing performances, as well as traces of blackened malice and djent-laced grooves for extra texturing. Despite all that name-dropping, it must be reinforced that Parius still totally sound like their own thing, at once aggressive, groovy, goofy, and nerdy, yet somehow utterly cohesive.
That “nerdy” tag comes from the sheer amount of B-movie fun Parius instill in The Eldritch Realm, incorporating Lovecraftian themes in a hammy homage to The Twilight Zone that features a pitch-perfect impression of Rod Serling’s iconic narration. The narration, combined with the sheer variety of both harsh and clean vocal styles on display, grant the record a unique theatrical identity. If there’s one fault in Parius’ execution of this concept, it’s that this theatricality doesn’t typically carry over to the band’s sound. Sure, great moments abound — I supremely dig the clean pivot into acoustic Opethian melancholy in the back half of “Phylactery,” to name one of my favorites — but there aren’t many that match the level of bonkers that the vocal explorations provide (save for the final track — more on that later). I still maintain that The Eldritch Realm is a record with no identifiable weak spots, but I do wish that its compositional personality was a bit more eccentric.
Of course, a record as concise as The Eldritch Realm effortlessly avoids stumbles in quality by its very design. Its twenty-nine-minute length seemingly covers as much ground as possible, due in no small part to unrestricted and unpredictable song structures and a great deal of track-to-track variety. While some cuts (namely “The Boundless”) serve as fantastic summaries of Parius’ toolset, others center on a specific passage of their playbook, resulting in more tightly focused compositions, such as the quick melodeath blast of “The Binding” or the slow-burning blackened death intensity of “Between Hell and I.” The show stealer, though, is absolutely “Crashing Black Moon,” an eight-minute piece of tech death insanity, emphasizing the depths of all the members’ instrumental abilities while keeping the infectious grooves tangible from start to finish. This is all wrapped in a production job that offers an intelligently balanced take on the modern, “clean” extreme metal sound. The sound features a big, beefy bass presence and pleasingly punchy drums without sacrificing the desired level of guitar clarity.
Perhaps The Eldritch Realm doesn’t quite have the “wow” factor required to elevate it to year-end contender status, but as I listen to the record on repeat, it strikes me that I otherwise have essentially nothing negative to say against it. Parius’ dense, commanding sound is extremely well suited for such a short LP as it covers a surprising amount of ground in a mere half hour. At no point in that spin do I ever feel bored or distracted thanks to their rock-solid fundamentals. This ticks a fittingly high number of boxes on yours truly’s personal musical checklist, and regardless of whether you’re a tentacled curmudgeon or a fresh-faced death metal newbie, The Eldritch Realm is a supremely satisfying experience.