Review Summary: A vibrant and vital death metal record 23 years in the making.
Afterbirth's debut is long time coming. Aside from a demo dropped in 1994, the band has been on ice for 23 years. Against all odds, most of Afterbirth has returned to pick up where they left off and then some. Instances like this happen fairly often, a death metal band rising from the ashes to triumphantly release a (typical disappointing) new record in a scene that has long since forgotten about them. Afterbirth buck this trend. The Time Traveler's Dilemma
is a vibrant and vital death metal record that feels powerfully original but fitting within the modern death metal scene.
It's easy to look at an album called The Time Traveler's Dilemma
, with its kaleidoscopic sci-fi cover, and mistake it for a masturbatory dork-prg emblem of excess; the kind of cover that evokes the dull and hyper-clean style of The Lucid Collective
or Lugal Ki Eb
. But Afterbirth are nothing like Archspire or Rings of Saturn. Afterbirth are a down and dirty Artificial Brain, Gorguts, and Defeated Sanity loving death metal band with killer riffs and the Cookie Monster vocal stylings of Demilich. In this respect, The Time Traveler's Dilemma
is the sum of its parts, because the parts are oh so good.
Despite the aforementioned Gorguts, Afterbirth aren't like the oppressive
amount of Luc Lemay worshipers like Ad Nauseam. Instead, they merely adopt the spirit and oddity of their inspirations, most notably Artificial Brain with whom they share Will Smith. What they do not share with either band is the tie with Colin Marston, which is a blessing and a hindrance. The Time Traveler's Dilemma
could sound better. The vocal tone is weird and the mixing is off. Things sound muddled when the shouldn't and clean when they ought to be a little more gruff. As a package, it sounds great but with a fine tooth comb, the faults do show. However, it does sounds unique. All respect to Marston, he's a tech death production hero, but the scene is currently facing what hardcore has for years with Kurt Ballou. Blemishes aside, it's good to hear an album of this ilk stand out aesthetically, if only a little.
Where The Time Traveler's Dilemma
stands out a lot
, though, is in its relentless riffage. It's one after the next with "Multiverse Dimentia" and "Eternal Return" having some head-bobbing catchy guitar lines throughout. Standard fare for a genre built on them. But Afterbirth excel at weaving these separate parts together with slightly off kilter sounds and tones. There are plenty of "pretty" parts sprinkled around Cynic-esque tones delivered with a slam-like intensity. It's a cacophonous spiral of disparaging sounds that comes together in one tight, unforgiving pure death metal package. It's a shame that the dynamics are put on cruise control, because the few crescendos found here are so fantastic, that more revelatory moments would have been appreciated.
Yet for all its weird, nagging issues, The Time Traveler's Dilemma
is as good an album as its unlikely and harrowing story. This is modern tech death with equal parts brain and brawn, never posturing or showboating in either regard.