Garroted & Calcemia – Transcending the Esoteric Plane
Arcane voices shrieking from the depths.
Death metal is undeniably huge now, maybe even bigger than it had been in its legendary early 90’s heyday. For better and for worse, this has brought a wide plethora of sounds to the table since the late 2000’s. Some bands dwell at the fringes of the genre, voraciously redefining it from within and without, others want to recapture the very spirit of a revered era, and a sizeable portion want to continue with where things were headed during its large-scale modernization, all the while the cruel reign of the dreaded Sturgeon and his ironclad law continues to condemn the majority to the dustbin of mediocrity. One of the most reliable schools of thought in the genre and one of its most cryptic emerged from this unusual place in its current history, distantly related to the original wave of experimental acts from nearly two decades ago but taking a form simultaneously more self-aware in its construction and specifically tailored to an audience increasingly familiarized with the myriad forms it takes. This movement which I’ve come to call “Death In Opposition” or DIO in reference to the classic late 80’s to early 90’s avant-prog movement known as “Rock In Opposition” is far from a widely recognized nor uniformly codified one either. Its representatives are stylistic outliers across the whole genre, neither “old school”, “dissonant”, nor “modern”. Garroted and Calcemia nonetheless represent this alien frontier in four songs of fringe-dwelling morbidity that showcase a number of far-reaching changes and welcome improvements for both bands.
If there’s one particular element that defines the DIO sound it’s a tonality built around an ambiguous relationship between consonance and dissonance, confident in creating surreal and ominous textures of stringent and driving melodies or malformed shuddering atonality. With Garroted we hear a more hammerheaded assault with almost From Wisdom to Hate-era Gorguts style crashing riffs and ruthlessly blunt rhythmic delivery before splintering off into mind-bending solos and abrupt stops and shifts where tastefully measured drumming violently collides into collapsing clusters of dense chords. Compared to Of Damnation And Abyssal Terrors from last year, this does lose much of the stylistic eclecticism and sprawling structure but a newfound immediacy and directness grants them a refreshing savagery, allowing them to turn their now signature layered harmonies and ominous supernatural atmosphere into voraciously hungry streams of fluidly dismembering intensity.
Calcemia also benefits from this quickening of tempo (compare it to the occasionally stutter-and-go Confessor-esque pacing of The Unburning Flame) and a higher degree of melody is present. Acrobatic guitar work leaps over a variety of phrasings and forms over restless drumming, letting melodies spin and mutate from staccato to flowing, densely packed to sparsely fragmented. Guitar warps from the melodic to something almost but not quite fully dissonant, gradually taking themes at comfortable intervals and mutating them through multiple permutations delineated by shifts in rhythm and riff-shaping. All of this requires an impressive degree of coordination and discipline but neither band dips their toes into stereotypically “technical” territory; moments of raw surging power coexist with those of impressive precision with each musician’s capabilities carefully used to regulate sheer intensity as much as their choice in technique.
This sounds overwhelming but both bands have a knack for crafting songs with clear progression and development of ideas. As previously mentioned, Calcemia balance their eerie ambiguity with straightforward riffs as branching points that fork into a variety of trickier, technically demanding rhythmic digressions and impressive soloing that earmark specific portions of a song. Garroted’s approach is similarly anathema towards any semblance of easygoing and friendly verse-chorus pop-hooks or yawn-inducing knuckledragging caveman mediocrity dressed up as intensity. Instead, they are even more forceful and ruthless, taking layers of rhythmic bludgeoning using sudden breaks in consistency and tempo to introduce jagged and “angular” playing along with fleshing out their harmonies, hinting at and building to grand doomed portions that answer the frenetic aggression with dismal and moribund certainty.
This choppy and chaotic flow gives their side a much more rampaging and relentless flow with even the few slower portions communicating that same sense of immersive all-encompassing dread. That in particular is assisted by usage of pinch harmonic squealing and fractured, vaguely Demilich-inspired riffs, even a few moments of almost modernist classical-esque climbing phrases. They aren’t afraid to unleash some truly wild soloing either but like Calcemia, these are notable for a much more ominous usage of scales and phrasings, avoiding sounding too showboat-y by virtue of continuing the same ominous and horrific atmosphere as the rest of their music. All this happens pretty damn fast for both bands and grants each song a great deal to latch onto whether it’s on their musicianship, the unsettling note choice, the at the times foaming at the mouth rabid aggression, or just how damn weird it sounds while still being able to shatter you into atoms.
Continuing an emergent style that’s avoiding many contemporary genre pitfalls left and right, Garroted and Calcemia further expand on their ever-widening sonic arsenals and showcase new facets of their sound and the promises contained therein. It’s one of the year’s freshest not so much due to fleeting novelty but instead a number of concepts ancient, contemporary, and next generation unified by a solid combination of technical and songwriting finesse. While its more atmospheric and cryptic sound will likely be an easier sell for fans of the classic era of death metal, the impressive musicianship and high-tech delivery will be right at home in the playlists of those who prefer the high intensity delivery of the genre’s modern branch. The only shortcomings come in the form of some of the production. Calcemia’s side has a slight issue with the drums sounding partially obscured behind the guitar while Garroted’s guitar is a little thin and occasionally somewhat scratchy. Thankfully these aren’t really particularly glaring and minor blips on otherwise stellar material from both. While it’s hard to say whether or not the next releases will carry on the same sound given how different everything they’ve released has been from one another, we can feel secure knowing that their versatility exists alongside a significant degree of expertise playing both within and beyond established norms of the genre today.