Thursday, March 5, 2009

None So Vile: Tech-Death Squads

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge decrepitbirth2.jpg

Decrepit Birth could be the perfect gateway through which the metal-phobic could enter the darkened realm, provided that the prospective listener could overlook that scary-sounding name. Also, an instrumental like "The Enigmatic Form" would be an ideal starting point, to get the unaccustomed listener hooked on the group's jazzy riffs, symphonic keys, and clear, neo-classical solos before introducing them to Bill Robinson's matted-as-his-dreadlocks voice. "Wow," this extreme-music novice might remark, "I never knew heavy stuff could sound so... pretty! It's like Trans-Siberian Orchestra on speed!" (Enthralled genre newcomers often resort to hackneyed band-on-drug similes.)

Technical death metal seems to offer something for everyone: Gorgeous harmonic guitars for refined aesthetes, 300 beat-per-minute drums and growled vocals for the savages. As such, it has become relatively popular, leading to inevitable message-board sniping. Bassist Dustin Albright, whose Topeka-based band Diskreet plays with Decrepit Birth Wednesday, March 11, at the Riot Room, has shared bills with tech-death squads such as Origin (also headquartered in Topeka) and Necrophagist. He's agreed to help debunk - or confirm, when appropriate - the most common criticisms leveled against tech-death acts.

click to enlarge Dustin Albright of Diskreet.
  • Dustin Albright of Diskreet.

1. Technical death metal albums sound "too good," due to their fancy musicianship and clean production.

Tech-death songs contain a lot of fast-moving parts, and without a producer to isolate and clarify the most important elements, these compositions would sound like indecipherable blurs. Of course, a number of metal fans actually prefer indecipherable blurs, so they're offended when they hear dual-guitar harmonies rendered with startling resonance. And cultish black-metal connoisseurs hate everything that doesn't sound fuzzy, ravaged and broken, like it's seeping through a speaker that's been stabbed repeatedly and set on fire.

"In punk rock, and especially powerviolence stuff, I can see why and how it's a more 'real' experience listening to garbage that sounds like it was written by people who just started playing three months ago, have no idea about writing music, and record their EP with a boombox stuffed inside a metal trash can," Albright says. "There's true passion behind that. But if you don't like your metal played with precision, go listen to that black metal crap. True black metal fans have got to be some of the dumbest music fans alive.

"If you're shredding, you want people to be able to tell what you're doing," Albright continues. "The entire collective idea of playing in a band is to sound as perfect as you can." Albright concedes that some groups use studio tricks to purport a level of technical wizardry beyond their actual proficiency. "If you hear something incredibly good on a record, go check out the band live to verify if they're actually as good as they sound on CD," he says. "Brain Drill and Origin never fail. Beneath The Massacre fails miserably."

2. While technical death metal players execute difficult instrumental maneuvers, the music is hard-for-hard's-sake, without real compositional skill or coherence.

Albright: "That's true to an extent, until you find incredible composers like Mike Keene from The Faceless (who's producing the next Diskreet record) and Matt Sotelo from Decrepit Birth, who take things to the next level based on knowledge of theory."

Like most challenging artistic endeavors, technical death metal encounters a certain strain of anti-intellectualism; basically, "I don't understand it, so it must be crap." Complicating matters is the fact that some of it is, indeed, crap. Seeing unremarkable musicians slap together random blast beats and guitar squiggles in the delusional pursuit of tech-death prowess is like watching overconfident med students butcher patients with their tragicomic attempts at surgery.

3. This genre produces some really pretty guitar solos, and is thus insufficiently br00tal.

"Tell that to Dave Suzuki of Vital Remains," Albright says. (Vital Remains plays the Riot Room March 25, albeit without its phenomenal studio guitarist/drummer Suzuki, who's on sabbatical from touring.) "'Dechristianize' has the most memorable riffage in death metal history, and those riffs are the melodic ones. Vital Remains is one of the most popular Satanic bands. If it's good enough for Satan, then what's your fucking problem? Decrepit Birth comes up with amazing stuff too. If that's too prettied up for you, then go listen to Bury Your Dead. I hear they're pretty brutal. They're not, but that's what I hear anyways."

All complaints aside, I guarantee fans of jazz guitar, prog-rock, and, yes, Trans-Siberian Orchestra could find something to love during Decrepit Birth's set. I can't promise they'll feel the same about warm-up acts Diskreet, Unmerciful and Gornography, but all that relentless metal will just make them even more receptive to Decrepit Birth's melodies.

Further viewing: Check out Necrophagist's "Advanced Corpse Tumor," which is much more pleasant than the title suggests, thanks to Muhammed Suiçmez's sweeping, crystalline solos. And during the intense "Finite" clip, Origin plays with an aggressive virtuosity that's almost uncomfortable to witness, at least until the intimidation yields to awe.

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