Tech Death Thursday: Hannes Grossmann – To Where the Light Retreats

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You know what time it is. Brace your face for some melting.

If you’re coming to Tech Death Thursday today for unbiased and objective coverage; well, first, that’s literally impossible due to the subjectivity inherent of personal music taste, and second, you’re out of luck today anyway. I am an unabashed Hannes Grossmann fanboy, and I will be approaching this album as such. If you want nuance, go read, I dunno, Angry Metal Guy or No Clean Singing or something; I’m just here to gush about what has become one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

Grossmann’s body of work speaks for itself at this point. He had already cemented himself as one of the foremost drummers and songwriters in technical death metal with his exploits in Necrophagist and Obscura, and he continues to bring his distinctive musical fingerprint to Alkaloid. He’s also provided tons of session and live work for all kinds of artists; just check out his credits on his Metal Archives page. With this kind of output, it’s a little surprising he has any ideas left for solo albums.

But that he does, and quite a lot of them. To Where the Light Retreats is his fourth solo album, although practically speaking, one could reasonably look at this as a new Alkaloid album, given that the entirety of that band performs on this record, though V. Santura of Tryptikon provides the lion’s share of the vocals. Some of the motifs on Light strike me as having started off as Alkaloid ideas left on the cutting room floor (perhaps to make more room for a bloated prog epic about flying squids). The haunting creep of “The Fountain” and twisted, winding triplet riffs in “Dhualagiri” both carry the band’s signature touch of unusual darkness, and the soaring lead guitar makes use of similar non-traditional harmonies. Suffice to say, if you’re an Alkaloid fan who’s been waiting for a follow-up to Liquid Anatomy, this should hold you over nicely.

Now, that said, this album isn’t simply a recycling center for discarded riffs. The majority of the songs are more straightforward tech death in nature, lightly touched up with progressive elements here and there. Straightforward doesn’t mean stale, however; this is the work of someone who has very clearly spent decades honing and refining their craft. The explosive energy endemic to tech death is tempered by creative riffing and excellent pacing, putting more emphasis on groove and melody than on raw instrumental prowess. Opening track “The Great Designer” is a high-speed rager, but its best moments come when it slows down for a half-time knuckle-dragger (the riff at 1:04 is choice), and the chugs and blastbeats in “The Sun Eaters” and “In The Glacier’s Eye” are complemented by powerful, triumphant leads in their choruses. Even with a few songs nearing (and in one case exceeding) the eight-minute mark, the album never feels like it drags. There’s a lot of variety from song to song, and each individual tune has a lot of motion in their structures, never lingering too long on one idea.

I’m a big fan of the engineering job on the album as well. Grossmann himself handled the mix with Santura taking mastering duties, and the result is a tight, clean record that sounds great to my ears. Each instrument shines in the mix, and the stringed instruments all have a punchy, juicy tone perfect for modern prog death. It all might be a little on the loud side for some people with a more refined ear for production, but I don’t think the mix is too choked out. Check out the toms on “Death and the Vast Nothing” as an example; despite the heavy distortion in the instruments, you can still hear some decay and dynamics in each hit. If nothing else, compare this to Hannes’s previous album, Apophenia, and you can hear some considerable growth in engineering prowess in just the span of two years.

While it’s probably not realistic to think that this will bring in a lot of new fans, To Where the Light Retreats is a must-listen for fans of Grossmann as a composer. It’s a rock-solid 45 minutes (give or take) of him doing what he does best with a handful of new ideas alongside the tweaks and refinements to the existing formula. It’s a fantastic record as far as I’m concerned, and it demonstrates the continued dominance of one of the masters of the genre. Get yourself a copy when it releases on June 1st over at Bandcamp. That’s all I have for you now, so until next time,

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