Review Summary: Although it’s not a complete departure for the band, "Portals to Canaan" is the realisation of a new sound that was strongly hinted at on "Of What’s to Come"
The direction taken by Deeds of Flesh on their newest album – as well as their previous opus, appropriately named Of What’s to Come
- is a little bitter sweet. Being so good at what they did, you can’t blame them for seeking challenge by pursuing a different sound, even if they are forgoing a formula that practically guaranteed one excellent release after another. The problem is that while their new hyper-tech direction heralds a new dawn, they’re out of their artistic comfort zone, attempting to rediscover themselves utilising a sound already perfected by bands who probably took cues from Deeds themselves. But although such a task has resulted in a few hiccups on their latest album Portals to Canaan
, Deeds have largely succeeded in crafting an album that not only impresses on a technical level, but also distinguishes them from their peers.
Those who’ve listened to Deeds of Flesh’s discography more intently will still notice many parallels between this and their old sound. The completely unhinged tremolo strumming – as if the band jotted down as many riffs as possible and threw them into a blender for good measure – still makes up a notable portion of the guitar work. But scattered in and amongst the madness is a combination of semi-melodic freeboard wizardry, randomly fluctuating sweeps and the occasional chug or two for that extra dab of brutality. Although it’s not a complete departure for the band, Portals to Canaan
is the realisation of a new sound that was strongly hinted at on Of What’s to Come
. The technical proficiency of the guitarists is undisputable, and the sheer complexity of the music itself merits many listens just so it can be digested thoroughly, but like so many tech bands there are sometimes too many ideas being tackled at once, which inevitably leads to clashing. Deeds of Flesh’s music used to flow like running water, but on Portals to Canaan
, one can’t help but notice a number of jarring transitions. Tracks like “Entranced in Decades of Psychedelic Sleep” and the title track mirror their old material by featuring complex but discernible song-writing patterns, while “Hollow Human Husks” feels as if it’s staggering to find a rhythm, constantly stopping and starting as one idea abruptly interrupts another.
Clearly this new tech-oriented sound needs some refining, but thankfully all the potential hallmarks for an incredible album are here. There’s probably no need to tell you that each and every instrumental performance is worthy of praise and brings something to the table. While it tends to annoy the old-schoolers, the clean production - at the unfortunate expense of that cavernous death metal atmosphere – really allows each instrument to shine. The bass doesn’t give the album a very thick lower-end I’m sorry to say, but it’s faint yet constant presence does produce a surprising amount of aesthetic nuances, at many points imitating the guitarists but then oscillating away as if acting completely of its own accord. The drums are brought more to the fore in the mix than any previous Deeds release, and this has its pros and cons. While the obviously superb drumming of Mike Hamilton is now perfectly clear for everyone to hear, I find it annoying to keep repeating myself when I say that drums are meant to underpin the other instruments, not dominate them.
Regardless, the band is obviously vigilant in pursuing a specific sound, and for the most part, it works. Even some of the samples manage to add to experience rather than simply annoy. In the title-track for example, the most grandiose moment on the entire album – a soaring lead coupled by an ominous, yet surprisingly infectious rhythm – is complimented beautifully by Michael Rennie’s classic monologue from the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The way Deeds can make things as precarious as samples work, as well as the typically ostentatious tech-death noodling is a reason for optimism. Generally the band has an excellent grasp of what works and what doesn’t concerning a sound that is still fairly new to them. The moments where Deeds get it right on this album hit as hard as some of the best tech releases in recent memory, it’s just up to the band to fully flesh out their ideas and make them gel with one and other properly.
Ultimately there is far more good than bad, even if it is unlike Deeds of Flesh to write material that’s – dare I say – a little inconsistent in its execution. There’s definite potential here for Deeds to write an album that’s not only unique but also reflects current developments in the modern death metal scene, they just need to iron out some creases first. Portals to Canaan
sees Deeds of Flesh complete the stylistic shift that began with Of What’s to Come
, the next step is naturally to perfect what they’re now working with.
Entranced in Decades of Psychedelic Sleep
Portals to Canaan