Tech Death Thursday: Allegaeon – Damnum
It’s always a good day for some death metal, but tech death on a Thursday? Can’t be beat.
My history with Allegaeon started when I happened across a copy of Formshifter back in 2012 (in a Best Buy of all places) and decided to blind purchase it without ever having heard a note of the band. This turned out to be a fantastic decision; I was immediately hooked by their monstrous eight-string riffs and incredible shredding, and their music was wholly unique within my metal experience at the time. I’ve been a fan ever since, through multiple lineup changes and growth in my own taste in music. Basically what I’m saying is I’m trying not to fanboy out here- new Allegaeon releases are always something of an event for me- but also don’t expect any measure of objectivity.
And now we come to Damnum, the band’s sixth full-length, and- I can say this confidently after three months of spinning the record- arguably the band’s best work. These are some of Allegaeon’s most eclectic and interesting songs to date. It’s clear in listening to it that the band has changed parts of their creative process; though some of the music feels like the growth of seeds planted on Apoptosis (and some of it having roots stretching at least as far back as Elements of the Infinite), everything just feels different.
It should come as no surprise. Everyone in the band has dealt with loss (damnum, as it were) through sickness, death, and isolation to varying degrees over the past couple years, and the subject matter has shifted away from the science/fiction material of their previous work to something more personal. The music itself is reflective of this, at times raging, others pensive and mournful, sometimes even exciting and triumphant as with lead single “Into Embers,” but always earnest in a way that you don’t often hear from things in the tech death realm. This also marks the first time that all five members of the band have collaborated on the songwriting process itself, to which the album likely owes some of its variety. You have the expected melodeath ragers in “Bastards of the Earth” and “Blight,” but the proggier numbers show a more dynamic and cerebral side of the band that, especially with the much greater prevalence of singing, sound like they could be lost Son of Aurelius or Scar Symmetry tracks. Guitarist Greg Burgess’s hallmark classical guitar returns, of course, and its inclusion is much more organic than before. Not only does it make its way into a handful of songs across the album, but the one piece that serves as a showcase for it just fits the vibe of the album much better than their previous works.
Speaking of clean singing, I would be remiss not to highlight vocalist Riley McShane’s performance here. Though the band has been slowly adding in his clean vocals since he joined the band on Proponent For Sentience, this is the first time he has utilized the full breadth of his vocal arsenal, and the album is that much better for it. As mentioned before, his powerful, soaring highs recall his time in Son of Aurelius, but there are a couple moments where he takes a softer approach that feels very Opeth. Even his screams carry a lot of variety, the typical high-low death metal growl accompanied by a strong hardcore-style shout and a filthy guttural that pops up in an honest to god slam riff in the closing track. The man’s diction is excellent, too; I didn’t get a lyrics sheet with the promo, but it all came through pretty clearly in spite of the heaviness of his delivery. He’s been the band’s secret weapon since he joined, and it’s great to finally hear him out in full force on Damnum.
It would also be remiss to say that he’s the star of the show; while his performance is the most striking expansion of the band’s identity, it feels like everyone brought their A-game for this record. Bassist Brandon Michael already proved he was a beast literally in the opening seconds of Apoptosis, and new recruit Jeff Saltzman more than fills Park’s shoes on the kit. These two in particular bring a lot of energy and texture to the sound that was missing from previous records, even at their best, simply owing to the fact that the bassist and drummer are now writing the bass and drum parts. Stancel and Burgess are of course both known quantities, but their sense of flow and willingness to experiment have both stepped up. Even more so have the solos; I’m a sucker for a good solo, and this album is full of them. Easily the best lead guitar work in their catalog to date, and that’s saying something.
While some fans might miss the more aggressive nature of the band’s older material (or the memey “HAIL SCIENCE” stuff), I have a hard time seeing anyone disappointed with Damnum. All of its flashy instrumentation and dazzling performances are accompanied with a ton of heart, and the music is the type that sticks with you long after the final notes have faded. It’s earnest and powerful and fun all at once, and you owe it to yourself to give it a go.
Damnum is out on February 25th via Metal Blade, also available digitally on Bandcamp. You can find Allegaeon on Facebook and Twitter if you are social media inclined. That’s all for this week, and until next time,