Psycroptic – Divine Council Review

Though they arrived too late to take part in the birth of tech-death in the 1990s, Tasmania’s Psycroptic made a big mark on the genre just after the turn of the century, and by now they’re something of a legacy act. Eight albums in, Psycroptic have managed to retain their core sound, wrapped around Joe Haley’s long, eclectic riffs, for more than 20 years. The band augmented that thrashy tech death with gospel choirs for their most recent record, As the Kingdom Drowns, nearly escaping the debt of expectation set by the classic The Scepter of the Ancients back in 2003. Four years later, Divine Council nods towards the Kingdom, but doesn’t rely on past successes to make its mark. As with every Psycroptic record it’s all about riffs, and must be judged as such.

Divine Council is every inch a Psycroptic album. Every tech death act is fast, but from (Ob)servant onward, Psycroptic have cultivated a precise athleticism reminiscent of Olympic sprinters. Every snare hit and hammer-on is muscular and tightly trained in a full-body, full-extension movement. “A Fool’s Errand” packs a few unmistakable Joe Haley riffs, impossible mashes of rapid picking, string bends, whirlwind runs and hammered notes. As ever, his brother Dave matches that speed with tight drum work; Dave propels the bridge of “Rend Asunder” with creatively syncopated snare marks. Vocally, the band are mixing it up yet again. Amy Wiles still makes occasional contributions, though she’s far less prominent than she was in As the Kingdom Drowns. Instead, Jason Peppiatt’s usual screams and barks are accompanied by the nasty growls of Origin’s Jason Keyser, used to best effect on the climactic “Enslavement.”

But in being an obvious Psycroptic album, Divine Council often feels too similar to Psycroptic’s past work. Joe Haley often draws on patterns you’ve heard him play many times before, and the strings and pomp of “Enslavement” and “Exitus” are the same thing any other band would pack into their song to add a little drama. When the latter brings in Amy Wiles’ guest vocals, it’s only for a moment, and too obvious a callback to her pivotal role on As the Kingdom Drowns. There  also aren’t many of the wild “fidget spinner” riffs that spill out across sixteen bars1; Haley’s riffs are still eclectic and unique, but they’re at times just plain tidy here, a word I would never use to describe the band’s earlier work.

As an album, Divine Council works well. Keyser and Wiles’ contributions provide continuity between the tracks on which they’re featured, and the somewhat controlled guitar phrasing doesn’t pull the listener out of the song with a rambling, endless riff. Divine Council is probably most similar to the band’s 2015 self-titled record, but with a bit more ambition and flourish. Consequently, the production employs the warmer, wetter style of As the Kingdom Drowns, rather than the dry, abrasive sound of the band’s earlier albums. As usual, bass guitar is totally absent in the mix; it’s the Haley show with their vocalist guests.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever get tired of listening to Joe Haley riffs, but after a while I did get tired of listening to Divine Council. It’s a good record in the way that pretty much all the other Psycroptic records are good; the band play tech death that’s hooky and confident, and their particular sound is unmistakable. Haley’s guitar tone, chord progressions, and particular mix of techniques just sound sick every time. Divine Council nails a few songs, in particular, “Rend Asunder” and the smoldering “The Prophets Council,” but it doesn’t really need to do much more than that. There are better introductions to the band if you haven’t heard them before, but this certainly clears the bar established by their previous work. After two decades, the band are running just as fast and with just as tight a form as ever.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: psycroptic.bandcamp.com | psycroptic.com | facebook.com/psycroptic
Releases Worldwide: August 5th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Though “The Prophets Council” delivers
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