Review Summary: Psycroptic on auto-pilot
As cliché as describing an album via the artwork may be, the cheap illustration that adorns the cover of Psycroptic’s latest album, simply entitled Psycroptic
, is a bang on representation of its content. As consumers, we are implored not to judge a book – or, in this case, an album – by its cover, but sometimes our prejudices can save us quite a bit of tedium. Album art should serve a reflection of a band’s overall concept, as well as their devotion to their craft. Of course, an idea like this should always be taken with a grain of salt, as it is by no means a reliable assessment of a band’s ability. However, seeing as Psycroptic are comfortable with dumbing-down the visual portrayal of their work, it seems appropriate that their newest album is correspondingly tame.
This isn’t to say that the band’s technical proficiency has diminished, nor is it to say that – even in light of some stylistic changes – Psycroptic no longer sound like Psycroptic. They are still masters of their instruments, utilising an array of complicated rhythms while Joe Haley’s galloping riff sections and distinctive leads steal the show once again. In fact, you could argue that the album is worth listening to just for his idiosyncratic guitar work, assuming one hasn’t heard any of Psycroptic’s previous albums, that is. The problem is that while the band are technically on point as usual, there is an everlasting feeling that the band have become self-assured in certain areas while trying a little too hard in others. Jason Peppiatt’s vocals are the most noticeable case of the latter, as he escalates the tough-guy delivery that he adopted on the band’s previous album The Inherited Repression
. As opposed to being intimidating, Peppiatt’s performance is little more than distracting, to the point where it can become difficult to enjoy the instrumentation given how high he’s been mixed.
The album can be rewarding should you manage to filter out his voice, but only moderately so, due to a combination of increasingly linear song-writing and flat, sterilised production values. The ultra-compressed guitar tone saps whatever energy Haley attempts to put into the riffs, and while the drums feel a cut above a machine as far as dynamics go, they still take a back seat to the guitars in terms of performance and the vocals in terms of presence. At this point, it feels as though Psycroptic are trying to break ground with a more mainstream audience, but they’re setting themselves up to fail by merely diluting their death metal attributes instead of abandoning them entirely. Rather than an unremitting succession of high-octane riffs a la Ob(Servant)
, the songs predictably alternate between similarly complex riff barrages, melodic ceases and even cheesy, anthemic, vocally-driven choruses, with the most brazen examples appearing in “Echoes to Come”, “Soul Once Lost” and “Setting The Skies Ablaze”. The end result is something too pacified to sate the palettes of long-time fans, but still too harsh to sit comfortably with the masses.
In short, Psycroptic’s eponymous offering feels like the band is on auto-pilot, capable of something far superior but unwilling to do so. While there is nothing particularly offensive about it beyond the vocal performance, it simply underwhelms with regularity, teasing you with the odd moment of brilliance but amounting to very little.