Review Summary: Technical death metal as it's meant to be.
In this day and age, it seems as though anyone can pick up a guitar, move their fingers about in some haphazard fashion, then package it with similarly inexpressive recordings under the increasingly vague banner of ‘technical death metal.’ Where at one point there had been progression mixed in with a heightened instrumental display, there now resided a dangerous practice of playing simply to show off. As barriers of entry into the musical market lowered, every bedroom warrior was clamoring to show the world their ability to stroke a guitar in a hilarious arms race (or fingers race") to see who could jack off the fastest. Even self-aware projects—those dedicated to flaunting individual artistry through the tried-and-true songwriting technique of ‘just play some notes I guess’—became a parody in of themselves bordering on obnoxious; the joke perpetuated by trendsetters like Infant Annihilator and their legion of copycats grew stale. The genre as a whole suffered a similar fate and received a stereotype that was not entirely baseless. On cue, however, certain acts seem to emerge from the woodwork to slap some sense into the scene, reminding all involved exactly how tech-death is really supposed to go. Even though I’m an appreciator of ‘dweedles’ just as much or more than the next guy, the oversaturated category needs these metaphorical grandpas to paddle some sense into these anarchical youngsters. 2016 saw First Fragment step up to the plate in the ferocious Dasein
, 2017 was treated to a double-punch of Artificial Brain and Persefone, and 2018 seems slated to be conquered by Augury.
Despite being out of the game for close to ten years, Illusive Golden Age
sounds as though the Canadian quartet haven’t missed a beat. An immediate distinction that can be made in the opening seconds of the album is that Augury actually exhibit a sense of purpose in every decision made in every song. Rather than arbitrarily connecting riffs together, the band concentrates on how the track is methodically assembled in its entirety; due to this conscious process, a given entry on the record feels cohesive in its presentation, every component unified harmoniously. While each member turns in a proficient performance considering the technicality displayed, they avoid intruding upon the structures of the tunes themselves, opting to cooperate instead of egregiously highlighting a specific element—the disc is a singular creation, not a scattered collection of ideas. Much of this may come across as ‘Songwriting 101,’ but in the context of modern technical death metal, I can name multiple bands that’d benefit from a crash course. A release that truly forgoes or at least tries to avoid clichés is rapidly becoming a rare commodity: you have your Rings of Saturn-esque collectives growing steadily more stubborn in their output, and The Faceless are skipping class having a smoke with Necrophagist out back. If a group successfully circumvents the dreaded label of ‘wanking,’ therefore, it might as well be an accomplishment. To blow the label out of the water is grounds for a standing ovation.
The foundations of technical death metal as established at its origin—progressive metal compositions featuring expressive guitar and rhythm section performances, all brought forward by the sheer power of death metal—are abound in Augury’s third effort. Placed underneath a subtly-hazy atmosphere, conjuring up images of dramatic episodes in space travel that would make Shatner tear up, Illusive Golden Age
successfully maneuvers through different motifs in the genre. This production, which has enough grit to prevent it from being overly-polished, gives a proper, distinguishable voice to all the contributors. “Mater Dolorosa,” arguably the high point of the album, orchestrates a merger between each contributing factor; a death metal-styled riff kicks off the instrumental barrage, only to be suddenly cut off by an effective, devastatingly-heavy breakdown. The track’s middle, however, is the true musical climax: a momentary break in the sonic assault serves as the start of a beautiful, clean interplay between the bass guitar and the leads delivered from the guitars. Tied together by a vocal performance capable of vicious highs and crushing lows and a delicious solo as a conclusion, “Mater Dolorosa” exemplifies what it truly feels like to experience a technical death metal entry. Like accompanying tunes, everything is carefully arranged so that the parts equal a coherent product.
One prominent trait that’s easing its way into modern metal as a whole is the amplified emphasis on the oft-disparaged bass—a movement Augury continues in earnest. There aren’t exactly Enterprise Earth levels of prominence, but that also isn’t the modus operandi of these gents; Illusive Golden Age
is glued together by strict, calculated cooperation. In its smallest forms, like the brief instrumental track “Message Sonore,” this philosophy pays in dividends, with a central bass part operating as the guide for the dueling guitars. Explosive soloing occurs throughout the powerful, eponymous opening number while the rhythm section, punctuated by very dynamic drumming, lay the groundwork. Augury demonstrates their excellent command over time in “The Living Vault,” launching into tempo shifts gracefully, not sacrificing momentum. The melodically-toned leads (which Augury thankfully produce in droves) push forward, intertwined, any motions matched by or crafted through the highly-technical percussion and bass. Ultimately, when brought to reflection, I can actually recall specific moments without having to research the songs extensively. It could be debated that this is the biggest strength possessed by Illusive Golden Age
: it can be remembered and doesn’t blend in a compilation of ‘wank’ sessions. Certain configurations a la “Carrion Tide” are simply so solid in all that they do that it’s hard to say much; it’s just a great exhibition of technical death metal’s progressive capabilities.
To put a cherry on top of it all, Augury even manage to capture the ‘fun’ of the genre—the head-bobbing, foot-tapping appreciation injected by an artful jam interval. Speedy, bouncy riffs run laps around the runtime of “Maritime,” surely giving fair cause for a tech-sponsored dance party. The tune, and the disc altogether, relishes in a succinct duration, knowing when to bow out and deter the malady of overstaying their welcome. Where fellow sets may overindulge themselves, Augury wrap up Illusive Golden Age
into a comfortable, 44-minute journey. I could ramble on, but the bottom line is that Canadians seem to have triumphed over the land of technical death metal as they seem wont to do. The imaginary checklist finds its objectives essentially accomplished: progressive leanings, technical mastery, energy, aggressiveness, death metal influence, and so on and so forth. Admittedly not in the upper echelon of the musical category, the album is undeniably attractive in its maturity and a textbook illustration that could function as a wonderful “How-To” guide for aspiring crews. Illusive Golden Age
does the subgenre the justice it is so often denied in modern, finger-flailing culture. Basement writers and globe-trotters alike should probably start taking some notes