Written By: Nameless_n00b_01
The pia mater, Latin for “tender mother,” is one of three meninges that surround and protect the brain from damage. So as you’re headbanging at your local metal show, your pia mater keeps your delicate, spongy brain tissue from dashing itself against the inside of your skull and knocking you out cold. Perhaps this is the image Piah Mater had in mind when they came up with their name—given that these guys write very long and very headbangable death metal compositions, it’s for the best that the pia mater ensures at least some of their audience is left standing after one of their twelve-minute works.
Piah Mater, hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have been around since 2010. Their sole prior full-length, 2014’s Memories of Inexistence, went fairly unnoticed upon release so the three-piece are giving it another go with The Wandering Daughter. Piah Mater deal in complex, twisting progressive death metal that incorporates a healthy dose of jazz fusion into the mix. The band drinks heavily from the well of Still Life-through-Ghost Reveries-era Opeth, and comparisons could be made to Ne Obliviscaris and Dan Swanö’s solo album. Primarily, though, it’s the Stockholm band that Piah Mater model their sound after, so much so that The Wandering Daughter could easily pass as an unreleased mid-2000s Opeth record. The production lends to that effect, comprising a Swedish-style ultra-clean mastering job courtesy of the Jens Bogren-owned Fascination Street Studios. As an avowed Åkerfanatic, I have no problem with that at all, but your mileage may vary on that front.
What you’ll get here is a refinement of that prog-death style played by some very talented instrumentalists. My hat goes off to the strings in particular here—the two guitarists have great synergy and pull off the multifaceted, contrapuntal riffs with aplomb. They have a penchant for long, measure-spanning riffs where they maintain a core of familiarity in the guitar parts while constantly expanding and modifying them in the details. An effective tactic they employ is to keep the first measure of their riff intact while switching up the rhythm or some other element for the remainder. Despite seemingly not ever playing riffs exactly the same way twice, Piah Mater don’t veer so far into technicality as to be abstruse, and their command of rhythm is such that the pulse of the song is always easy to follow—headbangable. Bassist Luiz Felipe Netto, for his part, shines during the clean prog-rock passages. His groovy, jazz fusion-influenced style really elevates these sections, which are played with a looseness and verve that is frankly astounding for a death metal band. Some of the best songs, like “Solace in Oblivion” or “Earthbound Ruins,” reach their peak during these mellower moments. Drummer Kalki Avatara is no slouch either, complementing the riffs masterfully with his excellent footwork and tom fills.
It’s not all sunshine and roses for Piah Mater, however, as some elements keep them from achieving absolute greatness. Netto’s harsh vocals are generally good—vicious and articulate, morphing from a deep roar to a strangled rasp as necessary while remaining intelligible. The cleans are a bit more problematic, however. Though they work nicely layered into harmonies, solo they often end up sounding a bit flat or otherwise shaky when straining into the mid-to-high registers. In addition, Piah Mater run into some issues with the big-picture songwriting on a few tracks. A pointless and jarring detour into ambient guitar mars the otherwise excellent “Solace in Oblivion,” for example, and tracks generally feel like an ever-mutating succession of riffs as opposed to fully fleshed-out works. Finally, their sound is quite derivative. That may or may not matter to you, but the fact that certain riffs almost sound like direct quotations of other albums could be a problem to some.
Those criticisms aren’t nearly enough to keep me from greatly enjoying my time with The Wandering Daughter. The talent on display, given the instrumental ability and compositional fluidity, is evident and the mark of a highly mature group of musicians. If, like me, you wish Åkerfeldt never gave up on death metal, Piah Mater have got your back. They’ve delivered an excellently played, produced, and written prog-death album precisely for those fans who hold mid-era Opeth in special regard. I look forward to whatever they come up with next—just try not to knock yourself out listening to them.