posted on 10/2008 By:
Psycroptic could very well be labeled the “purist’s” technical death metal band. Despite the ultra modern production of their albums and their absolutely brain-frying level of musicianship, the Australians have managed time and time again to avoid the pitfalls that plague so many of their genre peers and produce great, original-sounding records as a result.
Ob(Servant), the outfit’s fourth full-length, continues this trend in dominating fashion. It’s certainly a big step up from the rather average Symbols of Failure; hell, it might just be better than Scepter of the Ancients. Sacrilege, you say? This is arguably the most focused, memorable batch of songs that this band has released since their debut The Isle Of Disenchantment, and while it lacks the melodic sensibilities and quirkiness of Scepter, the sheer power and strength of the writing makes it my favorite Psycroptic effort to date. Put simply, this is the kind of album that top-tier bands produce.
On the topic of sacrilege, I’m going to go ahead and piss some people off and say that Jason Peppiatt is simply a better vocalist than Matthew Chalk, at least on this album. There are those that will see any new vocalist as a step down from Chalky’s inimitable range and versatility, but I always found his style to be a little too gimmicky and goofy-sounding for my taste. This is supposed to be death metal, not a satire on modern extreme vocal techniques. While it sounded like Peppiatt was trying to imitate Chalk’s approach too closely on Symbols, this album sees the vocalist really finding his own style in impressive fashion, and more importantly, strengthening the compositions in the process. While the low growls and high shrieks remain intact (and are performed skillfully), more often the vocals are delivered with a sort of epic, aggressive shout that just fits this band’s sound beautifully. It's an interesting approach that sounds great and also gives the songs a unique atmosphere that could never be attained with the random gurgles and screams of past outings. Thankfully, this dude also knows when to shut up and let the riffs do the talking, which should please those who felt that previous efforts contained a little too much lyrical banter at the expense of giving the guitars their room to shine.
Vocals aside, Ob(Servant) is another masterful display of this band’s ability to channel their jaw-dropping musicianship into truly memorable strings of riffs, which is what really sets this band apart from the pack. Guitarist Joe Haley’s distinctively jerky, stop-start style is still as mesmerizing as it's always been, but this time it sounds like more effort was put into giving the songs continuity as opposed to the crazy riff-salads of prior efforts. Songs like “Ob(Servant)” and “Immortal Army of One”, while still being incredibly complex structurally, are thematically held together by fairly digestible and incredibly catchy riffing segments that show a clear progression for this outfit. Elsewhere, the twosome of “A Calculated Effort” and “Slaves of Nil” see Psycroptic venture into lengthier, more epic territory with similarly impressive results. While this band has always struggled in the past with maintaining interest throughout the mid-section of the album, they reverse that trend this time around by delivering some of their strongest material during the middle few tracks, particularly the noodily groove of “The Shifting Equilibrium” and the slightly more subdued, yet no less effective “Horde In Devolution” (which ushers in one of the coolest riffs of the year at the 1:16 mark). Long story short, this band has made huge strides in learning how to pace their albums, and it really makes a big difference in Ob(Servant)’s listenability and staying power--two areas where a lot of tech-death is simply lacking.
I have some beef with the production, namely the conspicuous lack of beef in the kick drums, which sound click-ier than a bunch of four-year-olds playing around in an antique typewriter store. It's really a shame, as David Haley is one of the most inventive and talented drummers in the biz, but his performance is totally robbed of heaviness. This will never fail to piss me off, and until these ultra-sleek bands with these great recording budgets figure out how to properly trigger a drum set, I’m going to continue docking their production scores. Other than that (and the dreadful name), Ob(Servant) is a mighty album indeed. The song strength is huge, the playing is incredible as always, and the boys have never sounded tighter and more comfortable as a unit. In the scattered and increasingly crowded field of highly technical death metal, Psycroptic have further cemented their reputation as leaders of the movement. And as long as they continue to release albums of this quality, they’re going to stay there.
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The Inherited Repression
Symbols Of Failure
The Scepter of the Ancients