Review Summary: A miserable piece of work from start to finish.
I cannot stand the majority of the modern technical death metal that I hear. You could chalk it up to me being an old curmudgeon about my metal music (even though I was born long after death metal first took form), but today's tech death is like the metal equivalent of the energy drink: it all tastes the same and the taste is terrible. Occasionally there will be bands that reveal great promise, such as Obscura, Cattle Decapitation, or Fleshgod Apocalypse, but more often than not a modern tech death band will just be nothing but extended sweep picking exercises and overindulgent blast beats repeated ad nauseum with the very
occasional real riff thrown in from time to time for the entirety of a song, and by extension a whole album. Riding on the coattails of this style's pioneers Brain Drill and Beneath the Massacre, California's Rings of Saturn have managed to be even worse than the former two with their debut album Embryonic Anomaly
, mixing the same old and tired modern tech death formula with sanity grating electronic sounds and an absolutely atrocious production style.
The music found within this album's covers bears very little resemblance to death metal. There are blast beats, yes, as well as guitars going haywire and guttural, growling vocals, but what transpires for the 35 minutes this album runs for is just one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad noise section after another. To me, death metal is equally about atmosphere, riffing, and memorability. The reason that the great bands of yesteryear like Death, Morbid Angel, and Cannibal Corpse have stuck around in peoples' heads well into the 2010s is because they knew what made a song good and how to bring their ideas into musical form properly. The disgusting, slimy sludge of "Where the Slime Live", the morbid, almost graveyard-at-night sense of terror of "I Cum Blood", and the spine tingling horror of "Leprosy" were achieved not because each band threw every trick they had up their sleeves into the pot, but because they focused on atmosphere through the songwriting and on simple, yet memorable riffs. Technical riffing is of course welcome, but not to the point where it just makes you want to turn the album off and never put it on again. Rings of Saturn know not the meaning of the words "atmosphere", "memorable", and "riff", as they fell victim to the Brain Drill disease of "make every song sound like your CD player/computer is about to explode". While one may be inclined to applaud this band for the cacophony they have created with this album, said cacophony is so unmemorable and been there, done that that one will not remember what happened in a song a mere 10 or 15 seconds after a section passes. The fact that the band felt the need to incorporate deathcore elements into the mix through the most cliche and spin-kick happy breakdowns possible only adds to the album's crap factor. Yes boys, we know you can play your instruments. No need to brag about it to the rest of us that like our music to actually sound like music.
Where the music really makes me just want to rip every copy of this album that I find apart via corn threshing machine a la Halloween 6 is the "spacey" electronic keyboard samples littered throughout the record. These are some of the most annoying, ear grating, headache-inducing synthesizer effects I've ever heard in any music. While they do admittedly have a very distinct sound and feel to them, it isn't saying much when the samples and keyboard effects are as poorly executed as they are. Keyboards in death metal are entirely possible to do properly (just look at Septicflesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse), but Rings of Saturn absolutely butcher the idea of synthesizer effects in death metal by making them just as grating and awful sounding as the rest of the music. There's only so much high pitch whizzing and whoozing that I can stand to listen to before I just want to punch a hole through my desk in frustration. Actively hindering the music (not that there was much there to hinder that it couldn't already do by itself) is the god awful production quality. About as brickwalled and artificially loud as possible, this is the very definition of terrible mastering. Audible clipping is rampant throughout the record due to its overly compressed nature, and if you found it hard enough to get through the terrible music, the production style will lead to you shutting off the disc and never turning it back on again. I already have enough issues with tinnitus; I don't need an awful "death metal" album making it even worse.
You know, this may sound odd, but at least Brain Drill wasn't annoying. They're terrible, yes, and they're an absolute shame to what made death metal so good to begin with, but I was never annoyed listening to them. Rings of Saturn, on the other hand, are indeed incredibly annoying. Through a combination of terrible modern tech death issues, a flat out bad production style, and the worst synthesizer effects one could possibly insert into a song, Embryonic Anomaly
proves to be nothing but a miserable piece of work from start to finish. They may be very good at working their way around their instruments, but for these California boys, instrumental talent does not, can not, and will not translate to musicality and songwriting ability. Back to the drawing board with you all, preferably until you figure out how to write a song.