Review Summary: deliverance for the damned.
I find it hard to believe that I've been scrolling past my flac files of A Tunnel To Eden
for six years now, with nary a click and subsequent listen to decorate my recent memory. Despite my lack of attention to it, that album was, in a word, herculean. It was herculean in both the scope of ambition and
in the execution of its tightly coiled tech death personality underscored with astute melodicism and seismic groove. A Tunnel To Eden
was truly a masterpiece in many ways, carving up the imagined divisions between melodeath, tech death and progressive metal in a fashion that eschewed most long-in-the-tooth detractors and paved a common ground where sonic badassery was the currency of choice. Since that illustrious sophomore effort by these burly Philadelphians hit the shelves, rumblings of excitement for a follow-up have peppered their social media platforms rather consistently, and it’s little wonder why considering it’s been over a half-decade of global degradation since their landmark opus was unleashed upon this wretched planet. That's a long time for a society stuffed with attention spans shorter than the lifecycle of a common mosquito, and it's a long time for a band to remain relevant without new content to satiate the parched lips of their fanbase. Their mark on 2020 with the Insurmountable
EP did well to keep the ball rolling, but it's always been that anticipation for another full-length effort that's kept my eyes double-taking as I scroll past my beloved Alustrium files and southward into the alphabet of my catalogue. Fortunately for I, and more importantly, literally everyone else, that wait is over now that we have A Monument To Silence
Now, concept albums are a fickle thing. This we've known since The Who's timeless Tommy
; an inconsistent yet somehow lauded effort that still manages to overshadow the clearly superior Quadrophenia
. There's just something about the time and place of a consciously executed concept album's release that finds a way to cement it in the halls of eternal relevance, and in our quasi-post-COVID world, the soils of inspiration are rich and fertile for such endeavours. This is where A Monument To Silence
, the band's first proper oeuvre d'art conceptuelle
, draws on a deep pool of liquid potential. Though it seems to be a loose narrative lyrically, the overarching concepts are introspective enough to remain worth meditating on, even if they lack a certain sophisticated mystique that bands like Schammasch put to good use. Luckily, the music that carries the tale is what adds that much needed aire of ham-fisted esotericism that good metal suckles on. It’s a strikingly fun and generally accessible album overall, but the attention paid to the minutiae of pacing, structure and continuity is what really cements the “conceptual” vibe.
Divebomb guitar solos, levitating blast beats, proggy scale jabs, chunky open-chord riffs, magnamonious bridges and magnificent compositions hold it all together as these methodical craftsman tie the arrangements together from every angle. Add a dash of cursory time-signature gymnastics and you have a recipe for success. Doubters are welcome to tune into the rather remarkable "The Accuser" for proof as it builds upon itself with meshuggahan precision for nearly seven minutes before unfolding into an upward-spiraling groove that's as gratifying as it is dizzying. As a singular example of many, it highlights the fact that Alustrium have doubtlessly mastered the forces needed to end a song in grand fashion, with just about every one of the ten cuts on A Monument To Silence
wrapping things up with an almost frustrating insistence on absolute - for lack of a better word - heaviness
. "Join The Dead" might drive this point home harder than any, with a ritualistic build that avalanches into what is arguably the most bone-crushing musical moment of the year. These flashes of titanic catharsis aren’t all spared for the waning halves of these ten diddies though, as the whole damn thing is damn hefty and replete with selections like “The Plea” and "Blood For Blood" making notable haste to see you and everyone you know reduced to lifeless piles of ash. The former enjoys a jazzy, highly expressive labyrinth of a mid-section wedged between two pillars of electric granite, and the latter boasts a series of genuinely ferocious death metal riffs that slither their way in and out of some absolutely maniacal triplets and quadruplets and whatever the hell you call those djenty-but-not-quite-djent flashes of gigabrain brilliance. As a diasporic pair, they showcase the diversity of Alustrium’s unwavering dedication to full-throttle maximalism - an element (or lack thereof) that can be both a blessing and a somewhat desensitizing burden. At an hour’s length, A Monument To Silence
is assuredly monumental enough to posit a challenge of stamina somewhere around the forty minute mark. Fortunately for the droves of freshly sodomized brain cells left in this album’s wake, the most carefully executed moments of compositional flexing happen in the closing trilogy of tracks.
Much like the “The Illusion Of Choice” trilogy on A Tunnel To Eden
, this closing ternion of songs takes every ounce of goodness that came before them and distills the intoxicants into a super-proof concoction of virulent potency. “Deliverance For The Damned” cannibalizes the best chops from The Black Dahlia Murder camp and beyond, festooning the melodic tech and seething guitar solo to a properly eschatonal crescendo. Far from gentle, it’s a tune that is however a smidge more straightforward than “Worthless Offers”, what with its gradual build into ever more pulverizing dichotomies between breakdown (yeah I said breakdown) and melody. Clocking close to seven minutes in length, (like much of Monument…
's meat) it’s the best imaginable set-up man for a titular closer that is best left to speak for itself.
Overall, A Monument To Silence
is anything but quiet. Not only does the production job (and I quote the great Louisville Lip here), "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" with its nuanced and genuinely rich texture, but compared to the still-familiar A Tunnel To Eden
, this beast has matured, sharpened its teeth, grown a third six-pack, gained seven eyes, and earned a fresh PhD in instrumental acrobatics. I've no doubt most people expected a steady improvement from a band with so much prowess, yet the faultless character of their third longplayer is nonetheless damn near unprecedented. Standing tall as a finessed yet gargantuan, groovy yet spastic, filthy yet sophisticated testament to modern extreme metal’s extremely viable evolution, Alustrium ought to be truly proud of themselves for this one. If the recent genre-defying works from the likes of Hath, Dvne, or even Persefone gave you a stiffy (or a wetty), then this beefy masterwork and serious contender for metal-album-of-the-year is most certainly an album worth booking the day off work to enjoy.