Spawn of Possession
posted on 3/2012 By:
The way trends change and reverse over time is best highlighted when an old heavyweight returns to the spotlight amidst the wave of newcomers. Has it really been almost six years since Spawn of Possession's second album Noctambulant set the tech world ablaze? That album represented something of a logical extreme for "traditional" technical death metal at the height of its popularity, before Brain Drill turned the style into a parody, Origin and Psycroptic started writing actual songs, and Decrepit Birth and Obscura got all melodic and New Age-y with things. Now, with the landscape they helped forge largely changed, Spawn of Possession finally returns with their third offering, Incurso. And if there's one thing that's clear upon initial listens, it's that the Swedish collective couldn't care less what has happened in the metal scene in the years since their last recording.
Incurso lives up to all of the expected Spawn of Possession trademarks, almost brazenly so. It refuses to succumb to any of the advancements made by the genre in recent years, and in the process feels somewhat like a lone survivor wading through the crumbling remains of a zombie apocalypse. This is technical death metal in its most arrogant, unforgiving form. It's obviously extremely fast and busy, but more importantly, it's actually genuinely complex, daring the listener to discover the myriad hooks amidst its constantly undulating top layer. It almost entirely resists any sort of Decrepit Birth-like melody or empowering atmosphere -- the guitars have a mocking, menacing tone, and weedle and squeal in your ears like a swarm of demented insects. The band doesn't rest on the crutches of over-the-top gravity blasting speed, extremely low guitar tunings, or breeing vocals to feign extremity; instead, every facet of the music is designed from the ground up to be both as invigorating and head-spinning as possible.
On a production level, which in many ways is just as important to tech-death as the music itself, Incurso is a huge triumph. In fact, this is one of the best production jobs I've ever heard for this style of music. The infamous guitar tone is still firmly in place, but feels just a tad more ragged than past outings, lending a bit of chunk and heaviness to the band's spiraling riffage. The drum sound is glorious; understated yet still consistently clear and balanced, the sterling kick trigger sound and crisp snare and tom tones are simply a pleasure to listen to as they drive the music forward.
In a musical sense, Spawn of Possession hasn't progressed much from their first two releases. Rather, they have focused and strengthened their formulas and subsequently tossed a few little change-ups on top. I'm mostly okay with this strategy, because, as I alluded to earlier in the review, this band's style is one that has been lacking in tech-death, and to hear SoP explore it again after a lengthy hiatus is nothing to knock them for. This isn't a band that needed to reinvent themselves ala Decrepit Birth or Origin, and Incurso proves that. The songs here all strike an ideal balance between the somewhat more digestible pace of debut album Cabinet and the almost orchestral lunacy of Noctambulant. The riffs are roughly equal parts demented hooks and near-formless dissonance, with recognizable progressions and patterns typically tinkered and experimented with and delivered back in an unusual, challenging context. The drumming and general rhythmic dexterity in the songs is nothing short of astounding. While drumming was obviously at a high level on past outings, newcomer Henrik Schonstrom's unbelievable chops and clever accents and phrasing take the music on Incurso to new heights. The rapid-fire growls of returning vocalist Dennis Rondum (who drummed on both of the band's first two albums but only did vocals on debut Cabinet) are a similarly positive asset to the band's over-the-top delivery.
The two longer tracks, "The Evangelist" and closer "Apparition," each attempt to mix things up a bit, the former with an extended doomy slowdown at the end, and the latter with symphonic accompaniments floating atop the regular instrumental proceedings. Both songs are effective at adding some variety to the album on a track-by-track basis, and lend a certain epic feel to the proceedings that wasn't as present on past full-lengths. In fact, this epic feel permeates even the smaller tracks. The band has mostly replaced the clean guitar interludes and samples of past outings with more subtle but ultimately more effectual narrative touches. It shows a more mature side of the band while sacrificing zero percent of their impenetrable flashiness. Of course, as with all of the band's releases, there are moments when they take things a bit too far. These instances will likely differ depending on the listener, but I was personally a little put off by some of the more meandering, unaggressive melodies the guitars occasionally contribute, and there are numerous times where it's obvious the band clearly had no idea how to transition from riff to riff and inserted random segments of tapping and sweeps to compensate. These moments are relatively small in the album's overall picture and it's hard to feel that disappointed by them, but the occasional lapses in songwriting efficiency can be annoying.
Bottom line: Incurso is technical death metal for those who fondly recall the genre's heyday. It's overbearing, egotistic, and unashamedly devoid of any trace of traditional death metal. It's also pretty damn brilliant, and more than happy to reward the listener patient enough to dig deep and explore everything it has to offer. It will take quite a bit of dedicated listening to get to this point, but for those willing to take the plunge, Spawn of Possession has delivered a real gem that more than lives up the band's esteemed reputation.
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