Djent has certainly grown into quite a substantial and commercially viable style of metal despite the fact that it seems to be largely derided amidst the wider metal community. The potential is definitely there for bands to manipulate the components of the often maligned offshoot sub-genre of progressive metal in a myriad of interesting and innovative ways, yet the number of bands able to do this effectively appear few and far between. The likes of TesseracT, Periphery, Textures, and the very good Animals as Leaders are just a small handful of modern acts that have taken pathways to djent success, so there is hope for the up and coming bands for this surprisingly well-occupied scene to achieve success and a semblance of respect and credibility. Despite a seemingly limited web presence, Spain’s Semper have toiled away since 2007 and are now loaded up and ready to drop their second LP, Kháos. So the big question is, can Semper break the shackles of the djent curse and chug their way to glory?
Semper play a highly competent though not exactly innovative brand of groove-laced djent, complete with stuttering rhythms, chunky guitars, hardcore-ish death growls and cold, clinical atmospherics. Aside from the shiny aesthetics, Semper keep their music on the heavier end of the djent spectrum, avoiding watering things down with airy clean choruses or noodly introspection. When it properly kicks into gear, opener “XII” features a chunky and aggressive mix of thrashy groove and mechanically precise, off-kilter riffage and double bass work. It’s a solid if unspectacular beginning. Muscular metalcore, particularly in the vocal department, fringes the album’s proggy djent core1. And so begins a compact journey, as Semper ply their trade with enthusiasm while sticking closely to a similar songwriting pattern throughout the album. The accomplished musicianship and the sheer energy, confidence, and vibrancy in which Semper go about their business are difficult to fault. Sure they don’t deliver anything particularly fresh or memorable, but the intent and passion are certainly present.
Unfortunately, such traits can only carry a band so far and Kháos is marred by competent but ultimately soulless riffing and monotonous, repetitive songwriting that fails to ignite any significant interest. The familiarity sparks a nagging sense of tedium rather than the comforting feeling of reacquainting yourself with an old favorite album, book, film etc. There’s an interchangeable vibe permeating the album, with many of the songs lacking any real identity or featuring anything to inspire instinctive replay value, despite the occasional strong riff, catchy motif or headbangable groove. On the other side of the coin there’s nothing here that’s especially deplorable or unlistenable, and occasionally, such as smatterings of the thrashy “Redención” or the vaguely melodic death bounce of “Implacable,” Semper lift their game to more pleasurable heights. This is mainly because there’s less reliance on the stock standard syncopated rhythms and mid-paced chugs that dominate the album. Further variations in tempo and more frequent bursts of speed would certainly enliven the material and help stave off the mid-paced monotony that plagues chug-along songs like “Decadencia” and “La Bestia.”
Regarding individual performances, the quintet is technically proficient and uniformly tight, though no-one really takes charge, particularly on the back of the rather bland writing. Frontman Gabriel Pérez acquits himself forcefully despite the clichéd tough guy delivery, while some pitch variations would’ve proven more impactful with his vaguely accented harsh vocals. Production-wise there are no surprises here. The sound is bright, glossy and compressed. Additional dynamics and a more natural element are sorely missing, leaving Kháos sounding disappointingly soulless and overproduced. Fortunately, the band are aware of the increasingly lost art of self-editing, paring the album down to a lean and reasonably palatable 32 minutes. Sadly, the album’s brevity can’t compensate for its overriding flaws.
Fundamentally, too few bands are willing to expand the boundaries of the djent metal sound. Semper are far from the worst offenders in the derivative game of establishing a distinctive identity to escape the predictable profile and derivation rife in the djent scene. They still play it relatively safe, resulting in an aggressive, energetic but ultimately flat album for hardcore djent aficionados only.