Serocs is one of the few bands out there still making tech death like they did in the early 2000s; vicious, wild, and brutal in the extreme, but with the distance afforded by a decade, they’ve made a more successful run at the style than a lot of the bands who actually generated it did. By infecting the percussive brutality of Cryptopsy with a whiff of the counterpoint of Spawn of Possession, …And Then the Sky Was Opened won over our own Dr. Fisting. A good album, to be sure, but one which still came with a few production idiosyncrasies and shortcomings that kept it off of regular rotation for me. The Phobos/Deimos Suite is the tremendously talented band’s chance to finally get the formula right.
When they do get it right, The Phobos/Deimos Suite delivers on its promise of reckless brutality. Memorable themes that sigh as if out of breath at their terminus make “Thanatophobia” an early highlight: sticky, technical, and well-explored as a song. Serocs send the head spinning with explosive songs like “SCP-106” and set blazes with the groove of “Nonbeing,” one of the songs here where the connection between Serocs and Zealotry can be best heard. The painstaking counterpoint of The Last Witness makes less overt attempts at takeover here, subsumed to an album that’s entirely built around the riffs and the power of a well-commanded rhythm guitar.
But that guitar doesn’t always command attention itself. Bass popping and kick drums blazing, Serocs‘ rhythm section is the highlight of Phobos/Deimos, an accomplishment in itself considering that Paradis and Dagneault wrote and recorded their contributions on different sides of the Atlantic. Both of them overachieve in a fashion modeled after early 2000s Cryptopsy, doling absolute abuse out by the bucketload. Whenever you take the time to examine a performance, the band member under the microscope runs faster than you can move the slide to catch up. Yet these performances are tarnished by the lack of repetition in the album’s best ideas. A song like “Thanatophobia” has clear transitions between each of its ideas and never feels sketched in, but would be much more satisfying if its first and best riffs returned for a victory lap.
That’s the frustrating aspect of both Serocs‘ music and the canon from which the band draws. Incredible performances aren’t given room to breathe; great riffs get lost in lesser variations and with every member bent on sonic domination, the band sometimes feels like a group struggling to outdo not only the last riff but their bandmates as well. When they spring upon good ideas, they attack them only with the same enthusiasm that they hack away at pedestrian ones; dynamism cannot separate performances when the band doesn’t employ different approaches for different material. Cohesive songs and impressive performances make Phobos/Deimos a good album, but fail to make it a great one, and except for the final song, the album does not feel exciting despite its energy.
“Deimos” ends the album in grand fashion, far longer, yet even more impressive than the rest of Phobos/Deimos in its range of riffs and the impact of each one of them. It’s as if the band saved every great idea they had for one track, and they use setpieces on “Deimos” that the rest of the album really could have taken pointers from. Four minutes in bass-led tempo drop, followed by a gradual accelerando into concerted riffing, absolutely shatters the song. It’s not just brutal or impressive, it’s exciting and more interesting than any of the riffs on the album up to that point. Here, Serocs are organized and concerted rather than exacting but chaotic. This is what Serocs should aspire to, and are so close to being; a musical force that deploys their considerable skill with an ear to the interesting and expand rather than mimic the tradition that inspires them. With such a capable lineup, the band could be playing some of the best material in death metal — but they aren’t yet.