Review Summary: Essential modern tech-death.
Among today’s more quintessential
death metal (especially in regards to the more technical and progressive) acts there’s a number of trends that have emerged in recent years. Naturally, unwavering amounts of dissonance has run rampant through the genre’s niches, raging through both revivalism of death metal’s gloried roots, the worship of seminal acts like Demilich, Ulcerate and Gorguts and [in lesser forms] the new age zeniths that cram as much of everything into their being. Ophidian I’s particular sonic maelstrom however falls into the latter and largely defines the sounds a modern tech-death group should
be making, without emulating the less distinct path of the acts mentioned above. Hailing from Iceland, Ophidian I have spent the better part of the last decade in a musical stasis of sorts, settling into a dormancy and allowing their Solvet Saeclum
(released back in 2012) to fade from memory. Desolate
marks the end of the group’s hibernation and a refreshing take on death metal’s tendency to blend to the nth degree.
While looking at the bigger picture I find it hard to articulate Desolate
’s musical power based solely on the technical ability, intensity or even speed. For Ophidian I have crafted a record that is as uplifting in atmosphere as it is a proficient display of modern technical death metal. Desolate
“feels” like a joy ride through space, careless loops and dips around planets and stars alike. The astral artwork of Eliran Kantor compliments the dizzying twists and turns of Desolate
’s frenzied soundscapes that lurch from snapped blast beats, whirring tremolo, flurried arpeggio sweeps and cutting death growls. Album opener “Diamonds” is awash with endless guitar technique, equally matched by the thundering bass lines and careening blast beats—seemingly endless sprays of individual technical ability shoot across space’s void and combine as a single entity. In this manner, Ophidian I opened their 2021 accounts with a statement. The appropriately titled, “Spiral To Oblivion” is just as vast. In keeping with the barrage-like tendencies found in the opener it’s clear that this Icelandic group are unlikely to lift the foot off the pedal.
In circling back to the album’s larger atmospheres, the likes of “Sequential Descent” highlight the new record. Sure, the now typical displays of deep growls and blast beats continue their dominance throughout the album, but this track’s guitars invoke a positive vibe, centered around some almost
-Dragonforce like leads; noodles unto oblivion. Even with this in mind it almost goes without saying that parts of Desolate
’s larger soundscape may occasionally blend from time to time...if not for ‘moments’ that define individual tracks. Take the sensual flamenco-lite and the romping riffs of “Captive Infinity” for example or the burly melodic lines that ebb throughout “Enslaved In A Desolate Swarm” before easing into some of the album’s distinguishable groove-based ideas. “Blending” only occurs for those who don’t look into the finer picture. Where some listeners simply hear space, a vague simile for the reaching vastness presented by way of endless melodies and inhuman drumming, those who dive deeper into the airless abyss are presented with nuance, moments of individuality and the prospect that technical death metal isn’t in fact a stagnating genre.
“Jupiter” (probably the one adorning the album’s cover) spends a little less time adorning its framework with flurry and melodic embellishment. Instead, the track inserts itself alongside closer, “Wither On The Vine” as the heavier side of a one-two punch. Monstrous, lunging chord patterns paired with dizzying chugs. The beastly growls of John Olgeirsson simply act as a cherry on top of the mix.
Despite the natural saturation of a technical death metal record which favors the dichotomy of Ophidian I’s blast-solo-growl-solo compositional style, Desolate
doesn’t wear out its welcome. At just under forty minutes, Desolate
’s musical saturation becomes less of an issue when compared to the sprawling progressive jaunts death metal is occasionally known for. Ophidian I’s 2021 effort is a modern expression of virtuosity and heaviness that leans well into its melodicism. In a genre dominated recently by the dissonant climes mentioned at the top of this review, Ophidian I’s Desolate
stands out; diamonds
on a canvas of black—giant balls of gas that fills the void.