Review – Universally Estranged – Reared Up in Spectral Predation
In dizzying times, people look to the stars. To their dismay, what they often find there is more chaos.
So it is with Universally Estranged’s debut, due April 30 from Blood Harvest. At once textured and enigmatic, this tangled mass of interstellar death metal shapeshifts its way across 32 minutes. Reared Up in Spectral Predation turns the listener into a wounded Ripley watching an ominous beast through the smoke of eviscerated machines—there’s an intriguing unknowability to this record some may find, well, alienating. Universally Estranged, true to their name, has no entry on Metal Archives as of this writing, and there’s nothing save this photo to reveal who’s behind the project:
I therefore have no idea if a person, band, or sentient colony created this record. Whatever the case, the musicianship is tight and the function and form are in harmony. If you’re setting out to create a record of nameless interstellar terrors, why not do it in anonymity?
The record’s intro sets the stage with bubbling melodic synths and jazzy cymbals. Like a space pirate bursting from its cocoon, “Despoiling Souls of Flesh across the Galaxy” signals the arrival of malignancy. Cascades of tightly coiled riffs and precision blasts provide surrounding scenery while the ultra-low growls focus the terror. The vocals remain in this low register across the record, a constant rasp akin to The Curator’s hollow howls or Max Klebanoff’s deeper tones.
Ringing, spiraling riffs spear through the rhythm section of “The Visitor.” The clean production gives everything a spaceship-being-smashed gloss of technology being abused. Whenever the violence becomes claustrophobic, synth interludes zoom the focus back out to the stars, and then it’s back into the grinder with “A Thing, Oozing In,” which pummels its way through just over two minutes before “Sentient Meatsack” pierces the middle of the record.
If there’s a “story” here, it’s a story of being brutalized by aliens. As the record progresses, you may find yourself searching in tracks like “Teeming with That of Unknown Origin” for something deeper or more thematically incisive to hold onto. My advice—don’t. This record is best treated as an eyelids-clamped-open alien horrorshow. There are plenty of melodies and blistering passages begging for a circle pit to enjoy (“Internecine Psychic Bloodletting” offers several of these) without needing any “aliens built the pyramids” structural support. It may be there, but I didn’t find myself looking especially hard for it.
“Interlude” gives you a last chance to find an oxygen tank in the ruins before “Blistered Under the Blue Illusion” cuts the supply. About two minutes into this track, the pace changes and the guitars open up. The track splashes away into nothingness near the end, the drums pattering away as the synth cuts in and out. Is it a signal from a rescue craft, or is this the last flash of brilliance before you suffocate in your suit? Like the rest of the record, the answer is yours to project.
I have a natural skepticism about “for listeners of…” because it usually means the music is derivative. However, this is definitely an LP for listeners of Ghastly, Afterbirth, Question, and of course Blood Incantation. While I don’t believe Reared Up in Spectral Predation is AOTY material for me, it’s a solid contribution to the nascent genre of sci-fi death metal that offers something to those getting tired of iterations of tropey OSDM. The risk here is that the more unknowable death aliens land, the more Universally Estranged could get lost in the cosmic chaos.
But this is a debut, and a good one, which means Universally Estranged has time to grow. They’re still in facehugger mode. I’m excited to see if they can make it to chestburster status and do some real damage.
Photo via Bandcamp