Review: Defect Designer – Neanderthal

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Neurosurgery At 220 BPM

You might do plenty of headbanging, but do you do any cerebellumbanging? I was like you once, just using my heaviest muscle as a hanging post for meshbacks and shades, but thankfully Defect Designer are back on the scene just in time to jostle my brain juices back into action. While originally a homegrown Russian band, DD has now evolved into an international outing between Eyvind Axelsen of Diskord and original founder Dmitry Sukhinin, who is a part of the Diskord fold himself since 2015. In the 7 years since DD’s last full-length, it seems Sukhinin has invited Axelsen (and, inexplicably, Trollfest‘s Martin Storm-Olsen) to his band for a little vacation EP and breathed new life into the project. The title of their latest, Neanderthal, hits me as a bit of a joke. For folks like me who could vaguely recognize the ingenuity of Diskord’s last record (thanks to Sepulcrustacean for his thesis to guide me) but lacked the neocortical stamina to digest, it seems that DD is here to say “Don’t worry, dumbass, we can throw some chugs in just for you.”

The brainpower channeled into this 18-minute EP creates dense, compact deaththrash that has enough pressure behind it to drive nails through a steel girder. From the first proper song, DD are telling me that my grey matter needs more “Wrinkles”. The track opens with muscular stamping chords to mark its territory, so meat-and-potatoes on the surface, but as the phrase repeats the skin gets peeled back to show the more complex veins and nerves hiding underneath. The semi-audible arpeggio leadwork seems to swim half-hidden in the wake of the 8th note jog, but as it ramps up into gallops and tremolo sprints, the leads become more lithe and serpentine, until it breaks into the freestyle zone, guitars and bass swelling around one another with triangular jagged stabs. In the final stretch, the bassline burbles and pops with some shuffling syncopation, while the arabesque guitar winds around and lithely wanders, carving out fresh creases and folds in my prefrontal lobes.

With an eye towards fusion, Neanderthal takes turns in barreling straightaway charges of grindcore and chopped up crashes of death metal disharmony, but takes great pains to keep every phrase clear, articulate, and stinging sharp by keeping the mix trebly and the voicings high-register. If it weren’t so precise, so crisp, the real magic of overlapping changes and iterative phrasing would be muddled to appreciate, and the agility on display would feel less fluid and more foggy. The bass tone, salaciously and appropriately fretless, takes a leading textural role in counterpointing the guitar. At the outset, “Trolls” uses the bass as a spiral auger, orbiting tightly around the chord roots without landing, but when things get thrashier in the second half, the bass gets curvy, flicking out chirpy string slides and wah-wah. The jazzy turnaround on the same track uses seizure-like guitar stutters to chop the progression up, peppered with chromatic dots from Axelsen’s 5-string beneath.

Cumulatively, Neanderthal boasts an evolutionary prowess, where repeated sections never show quite the same face each time. Math rock as an iterative algorithm, kaleidoscopic and fractalized. It’s never indulgent, though, we’re not talking super-brainy prog here, just a very intelligently designed death metal predator. The instrumentation is the product of a chaotic system, and it all culminates in “Time, Forward”, which stretches into Arctopus territory for warbling bass needling and plasmic freeform styling, all with a continuous momentum and pull towards the future. There’s no repeated motif or hook, just a critical point of heat and pressure where each instrument slides over one another as adroit as an acrobat, freezing and melting and sublimating all at once. From what I know of DD’s constituent musicians, this may be a downright primitive rager for them, but for me, it’s as inspiring and grand as the 2001 Monolith. Welcome to Kubrick-Core, harshly envisioned, meticulously constructed, and a great way to imbue monkeys like me with delusions of grandeur.

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