Review: Dissimulator – Lower Form Resistance
In Montreal Metal, Technology Kills You.
The world of metal has had a very interesting relation with the idea of the old school, the throwback, and the retro over the years. In some cases these terms can be derogatory, a way of criticizing those who seek to avoid the perceived tedium of the here and now in exchange for resting on past laurels. Yet in others they are openly endearing and a sign of respect, a hailing of the tried and true that has not bent to the relentless desire for novelty and new, financially ripe fields. Ultimately these are two highly constructed configurations of narrative each ultimately being little more than marketing strategies. They may seem to be on opposite sides but together they are functionally a coordinated effort to constrict the range of expression in the genre into easily sealed boxes. Rather than engendering a diverse understanding of genre possibilities, it results in a hunt for either novelty with its ultimately short shelf life and tendency to become the new orthodoxy. Alternatively, it is the artifice of perceived tradition often having to do moreso with contemporary perceptions of the past and market forces than the willful ignorance and naivete that defined the past. It’s between the cracks of these two that this Quebec band slips out of the shadow of various established names and oversaturated markets.
Essentially the current lineup of Chthe’ilist minus the ever-busy Phil Tougas, Dissimulator’s members are all seasoned in styles beyond just Finnish-style death metal. Atramentus’ colossal funeral doom in its mythic scope; Incandescence’s stormy black metal voyages; the vibrantly spiritual technicality of Sutrah; the necromantic doom-dirges of Worm— it is not hard to rattle off the accomplishments of their various projects. Dissimulator differs sharply in how it hearkens back to a visceral ancestor-style to the genres Antoine, Philippe, and Claude are well versed in—thrash metal with a deathly inclination and specifically a very technical variant of it. While it is easy to simply write off the genre as a relic, many often forget how it served as the forefather to not just death metal but its brainier, progressive strains. The mid- to late 2010’s onward have demonstrated with bands such as Chile’s Dictator, the UK’s Atvm, and America’s Obsolete that it can be no less ambitious and adventurous as far more fashionably abstract styles. Its pulsing heart of ripping riffage and refined if still feral delivery grounds its aspirations only to back up raw ideal with savage power.
Neither is in short supply on Lower Form Resistance. While the two-track promo demonstrated primarily the latter, the full album is best described as both unusually idiosyncratic and satisfyingly rippy. Crackling chords firing off like sparking electricity break off into robotic stutters as traffic-jam dense patterns condense into needling excursions into finer, dextrous territory and even transitioning into near-psychedelic spaciousness on occasion. Its foundation may be found in the blueprints laid out by masterworks such as Invocator’s Excursion Demise, the Cynic demos, Sadus’ first three, and Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence yet this is distinctly an album of the 2020’s.
Much of the riffing takes on a tinge of dissonance albeit of a sort that has little to do with the skronk of the Gorguts-worshipper crowd and closer to the stranger end of thrash, giving Claude’s guitar work a colder atmospheric touch combined with the unusual structural architecture it winds through. The steady pulse of Antoine’s bass sits in the pilot seat of the riffing, a resonant tone audible no matter how jam-packed the songs feel, whether pulsing with hefty accenting firing off like bullets or slipping through the needling flurries to insert choice harmonies at key portions. Seemingly folding into the background at first, it serves almost like a mirror of the otherwise upper register riffing attack, adding a resonant sense of mass and augmented momentum. The mix only reinforces its low-register impact, coating it in a slick sheen in stark contrast to the dry and thorny guitar that makes it impossible to bury.
Philippe Boucher adds perhaps the most death metal to this overall, less flashy than in his other projects yet no less worthy of note. He handles a wide variety of tempo changes and tasteful technicality to a style often reliant moreso on skank-beat jackhammering, carefully modulating flow and hinting at change to come with choice cymbal accents spaced out with precise tom fills often shooting past in a blur of motion. At times his patterns do streamline when the emphasis switches to laser-precise string attacks alongside his flourishes on the kit. Whether with a barrage of toms or the warning chitter-chatter of his cymbals, he only gets comfortable enough with a particular section to make the jump to the next explosive in its abruptness and power. Moments of flashiness tend to be spaced out, dotting the landscape at a few key junctions to double down on the overall intensity of the moment.
Last but not least, Claude Leduc also handles vocals with a hellishly abrasive tone, a growl rather than a thrashy bark and dwelling mostly in the lower register. He has a great deal of enunciation however, no less clear in his science fiction lyrical intent than the rest of the instrumentation is in its sheer class. It’s the sort of vocal performance I might associate with a more brutal stylistic affair but he lends to the band a viciousness that is just at home with every other element previously elaborated on. With the distinctly contemporary execution, he is probably the least classic thrash part of the sound and I do not mean that as a criticism in the slightest. The inhuman or rather dehumanizing part of its automata-overridden future atmosphere comes through perhaps the strongest in his performance.
In other words, there is a lot going on in this album, far more than would have been the norm even in classic death/thrash outside of perhaps something like Chile’s Apostasy or North Carolina’s False Prophet. It is filtered through the lens of decades worth of technical death metal; the direct descendant of this branch of death/thrash. The end result sounds as if it came from a different timeline altogether, tying together influences from groups such as Voivod, Martyr, Forté, Meshuggah, Suffocation, Aspid, Cynic, even a bit of black and post-metal into a multifaceted form. It’s a lot to juggle on paper but the tenacity of thrash unites it into a concentrated advance wherein the cracks and seams that divide them are tightly nailed shut. The progressive aspirations are clear in intent yet remain grounded with a heart of feral, ripping violence.
As expected of a band with that level of accomplished musicianship experience, the songwriting and structure exists light years ahead of their stylistic predecessors from the late ’80s and early ’90s. The “death” part of the (technical) death/thrash equation results in a band that juggles a greater variety of riffs against one another across a variety of contrasting forms. Much of the riffing is based on fast, gnarled chords emphasizing jagged shape and choppy rhythm for a sound that emphasizes concussive force first and foremost. Skank beats intersperse themselves with blasts to keep track yet tremolo riffing is not often there to race alongside it, being less common overall than say Sepultura up to 1991 or ’90s Vader. Variation manifests through obtuse technical elaborations and dissonant technique, seemingly dissolving familiar thrashiness into shimmering flitters in contrast to the pummelling solidity. Ghostly vocoder-esque vocals occasionally chime in to accompany this, tinting it with an otherworldly allure albeit in brief flashes. Stop-and-go patterns occasionally pop up to bring speeding rhythms to a crashing halt, breaking them up over bumpy percussive topography.
From this varied armory of riffing, narratives of recombination and deviation unfold. The evocative immediacy of thrash creates a degree of familiarity via repetition. A consistency in rhythm begging to be broken away from creates the perfect backdrop out of which the previously elaborated variation (and extra) can emerge, never letting an idea become too comfortable. Every riff they let you become familiar with is eventually juxtaposed with another that contrasts it in tempo, style, tonality or another notable characteristic—spaciousness vs. stuttering vs. streamlining vs. pure pummelling and so on. In spite of the repetition, the songs are not really “repetitive,” odd as it sounds. They might hint at the appearance of verses and choruses or rather something like them but this is a very loose framework at best. The frequently lengthy songs (only three fall under 6 minutes) give them much room to explore with a tendency for long stretches of thematic deviation. The lengthier tracks particularly make good use of their runtime to become almost chaptered forays into ever-shifting, varying metropolises.
The three comparatively bite-sized ones are not necessarily watered down or entirely based around aggression. Opener “Neural Hack” doesn’t shy away from whiplash shifts into mosh-friendly midtempo breaks between its sudden machine-gun blastbeat barrages. Rerecorded track “Warped” features a mystifying introductory motif, tumbling and collapsing in on itself, that reappears throughout the song like some sort of holographic wraith beckoning the crunching verses onward. Though for many the star of the show will be the album’s bulk. “Automoil & Robotoil” is a rather strange track, starting off with thrashy if comparatively looser riffing punctuated with adept bass before a weirdly catchy, stuttering beat and mechani-chug join robo-vocals, bass guitar later piercing through the transforming guitar pattern. It even enters some strangely dreamy territory a bit over halfway in, oddly emphasizing Claude’s accusatory, harsh voice before a short instrumental… blackened portion?
The mostly instrumental title track by comparison might not bear the same eclecticism but its constantly distorting riffing patterns result in a predatory sense of pacing, stalking through corridors paved by the pulse of the rhythm section. Actual, non-processed singing pops up almost like a slightly more conventional Snake from Voivod, but it vanishes amidst the hanging chords after a short growl. Soon it is accelerating again into an almost 2000’s tech death semi-noodling riff if only to return to the stomping march of judgement. As if escaping its sentence, the song ends with a near grind-frenzied series of blasting and twitching 38 seconds, best summarized as “harrowing.”
As bands like Cryptic Shift, Khthoniik Cerviiks, Sonic Assault, Paroxysm Unit, Horrendous, and Hellix (Japan) begin to pop up more and more it’s clear that a growing interest in science fiction is manifesting in extreme metal. Whether implicit in art, lyrics, or evoked by the music it appears that very out there, futuristic interpretations of extremity are welcome regardless. Thrash in particular for all of its associations with a long-gone golden age proves itself to be a surprisingly fitting genre whether for the pulp of cyberpunk or the cold dispassion of worlds subsumed by automata. There’s something very human in thrash in spite of how rigidly factory-like its rhythmic attack may seem and its history of socio-politically charged lyricism lends well to a realm of technoparanoia and fascination.
Demonstrating that thrash still has much unexplored room and that death metal’s characteristics inherited from it have much to offer, Dissimulator make it clear they are a band that rests on far more than their laurels. Sounding nothing like the established acts they are/were a part of, Antoine, Claude, and Philippe might as well be alternate reality versions of themselves here. Regardless of what one thinks is the way forward for the genre, Lower Form Resistance demonstrates it’s a matter of perspective rather than influences. Sometimes that perspective just happens to be of a sapient program-deity comprised of redacted information that happens to really like the gnarliest technical death-thrash of 2024 so far.
4.5/5 black box hard drives intended for discrete disposal
Lower Form Resistance is available now on 20 Buck Spin’s Bandcamp