Remember back in March, when I brought up the subject of musical complexity? Well, here we go again with the things and the words and the stuff. But this time, my choice of symphonic technical death metal perfectly exemplifies the opposite side of the coin. Originating from the hot, dry hell that is Arizona, tech-death quartet Singularity specialize in restraint. Rather than inundating their sophomore record, Place of Chains, with layer over layer over layer of rich instrumentation, this newly-signed band chose to strengthen their compositions by dispensing with excess entirely.
Before I go forward with this review, I want to take a moment to address the passing of Singularity‘s keyboardist, Nick Pompliano. Despite ascending this plane back in May 2018, his musical personality defines Singularity‘s newest album, having already written most of the keyboards and synths you hear on Place of Chains (Inferi‘s Malcolm Pugh provided additional orchestrations). I can’t possibly imagine the earth-shattering loss those close to him felt. However, having followed Singularity for a couple of years now, I can say that his ability to create something unique within the often narrow set of parameters which define tech-death was remarkable. We hardly knew ye, friend.
As with all symphonic tech-death, expect bougie synths, fast note progressions and a combination of subterranean growls and abrasive rasps. What you might not expect are the forms these respective building blocks take. Symphonics adopt a gothic vampiricism, capable of seducing even the trvest of metalheads. Guitars are riff-focused in the melodic tradition, refusing to embellish where embellishment doesn’t belong. Death growls are monstrous but posses a ghostly lightness that feels gloriously unsettling, and screams share more in common with raw black metal than anything else – a refreshing departure from the genre norms. Throw in a delightfully tight drumming performance across the board, and presto! Singularity in a nutshell.
Crack open that shell, and you unleash forty-one minutes and forty-nine seconds of tech-death with its sneak skill tree maxed out. Ten minutes shorter than the band’s eponymous 2014 debut and twice as propulsive, Place of Chains will haunt your listening schedule for an inordinate span of time. Opener proper “Victory or Death” initiates your possession with a bouncy riff that embeds itself in your brain for weeks. Not long after, “Sisyphean Cycle” entraps your motor functions within an endless loop of headbanging and horn-raising, thanks to a fantastic composition wherein instruments contribute only where effective. “Consume and Assume” further reaps the benefit of keeping the songs relatively restrained, flourishing with it’s immense chorus and utter lack of superfluous wankery. Perhaps the strongest track offered is the closer. A brilliant ending, “As Dark as this Nefarious Night” contains every bit of drama required of a symphonic tech-death recording, and its perfect track-length and unfuckwithable chorus make it not only one of the best songs from the genre this year, but also an excellent excuse to spin the entire album again.
Look closely, and you inevitably find scuffs and cracks on the fine pieces that furnish this Place of Chains. For example, “Ritual of Regret” is quintessentially generic, contributing little substance to the record. Similarly undifferentiated, “Dead Receptors” would find itself right at home on any number of The Artisan Era’s tech-death outings, especially those crafted by Inanimate Existence. Granted, it’s superior to anything Inanimate Existence has put out to date, but it falls short of the quality I expect from Singularity. I also wonder if the lead guitar holds back a little too much as it pertains to solo work. When solos occur they are by no means incompetent, but they remain the one aspect of the record that I struggle to recollect because they lack the same strong personality as the rest of the music (see “Consume and Assume”).
Regardless of its shortcomings, Place of Chains qualifies Singularity as one of my favorite up-and-coming bands in symphonic technical death metal. Many newcomers in the genre fail to ensnare me for any respectable amount of time, but I immediately gravitated towards this celestial body upon hearing their debut all those years ago. With Place of Chains, Singularity grows more powerful, and all hope of breaking free of their event horizon is lost.