Heaviness is in the ear of the beholder, and you and I just know heavy when we hear it. To me, Devourment is rather heavy; to someone whose understanding of metal begins and ends with Disturbed, Devourment is just noise, and is therefore not heavy. Even this may prove contentious, because some people think “noise” as a genre is legitimately extreme and heavy. Slayer gets ridiculously heavy, both in their old stuff (“At Dawn They Sleep”) and new material (“Catatonic”). I’ve never found sludge to be all that heavy, despite sounding weighty and lacking in treble as it often does. Despite playing guitar in a metalcore band years ago, my younger sibling doesn’t pass muster on this scale; he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. I cannot produce a definition of heavy in extreme metal, nor can you. We can merely tell people what is and isn’t heavy through bands and songs. Which brings me to Argentinian death metal band Prion and their latest release Aberrant Calamity.
Prion sounds like the worldwide variant on Floridian death metal, often just called “OSDM” for short. The punk-infused nature of Swe-death is entirely missing here, and the reliance is placed on tremolo riffing, the odd fast-paced chug, and those strange dissonant measures one associates with Ulcerate. Aberrant Calamity reminds of blasty Severe Torture-core, perhaps mixed with Suffocation sans slams and Hate Eternal, dashed with some diluted Tucker-era Morbid Angel. One could call to mind all manner of average death metal, from Warfather to Malevolent Creation’s lesser works, to help describe the sound of Aberrant Calamity.
What I can’t call to mind in any honest way is the term “heavy.” Listening to Prion has proved a baffling and unpalatable experience, because even though the hallmarks of heaviness are all present in every song here, Aberrant Calamity fails to surpass the base threshold of heaviness that would make it successful death metal. It fails the first step of the “test” by sounding flat, superfluous, and lacking in power. The beginning riff of “Unable to Discern” sounds like a meaningless series of notes and evokes mild irritation by sounding like a botched take on Decapitated’s very heavy “A Poem About an Old Prison Man” and is nominally death metal by the employment of incessant, requisite blasting.
“Fictitious Form of Stability” opens Aberrant Calamity on a bad note with a directionless riff devoid of kinetic force and memorability. Following this is an attempt to merge spayed and neutered Hate Eternal and Ulcerate riffs—think CatDog in musical form—that manages to widely miss the mark on what makes both of those bands special to my ears. “I’m Jonah, Sacrifice Me” has a funny title which warrants some praise, but the riffs hamstring themselves in attempting to be heavy. The chorus is infuriating, with a good simple riff being torpedoed by a measure of stale, pointless, string-skipping noodling. Even the comparatively decent Nile-core breakdown (think “Kafir!”) is too short-lived and puts its dissonance in all the wrong places. “Pathological Self-Destruction” is similarly vexatious, sounding like little more than an I, Monarch outtake without the benefit of Derek Roddy doing the incessant blasting. “Observed Reality” follows and begins on a melody that starts convincingly enough but, because dissonance is in nowadays, deep-sixes that melody with a couple of outright meaningless dissonant measures that do little more than pester the listener.
If it sounds like I’m being unnecessarily hard on Prion, perhaps I am. All things considered, Aberrant Calamity would sound like death metal to anyone remotely familiar with the genre. It’s played competently, despite my disagreement with essentially every composition choice the band has made. Prion is not beholden to my whimsies as a listener, my ideas of heaviness, or my preference of riffs of manifestly different types. I can’t honestly say I found much praiseworthy content throughout Aberrant Calamity’s runtime, but it seems an oversight to dismiss Prion’s latest effort as completely lacking in merit. Someone somewhere has a definition of heavy that sees Aberrant Calamity fall into its purview, and that someone will surely enjoy the record. That someone is not me, and it is not my responsibility to pretend it is. I don’t like lambasting bands that put forth an earnest effort, and Prion is certainly one such band. Just because the dish is not at all to my tastes doesn’t mean that I got food poisoning from it. Prion interprets death metal differently than I do; no more, no less.