November 20, 2017

Archspire vs. Gigan

By Calen Henry. Technical death metal is a hard sell for me. Necrophagist's Epitaph is one of my favourite metal albums but little else, save for Virvum and early Arsis has really grabbed me. I've investigated Necrophagist alumni's various projects
By Calen Henry.

Technical death metal is a hard sell for me. Necrophagist's Epitaph is one of my favourite metal albums but little else, save for Virvum and early Arsis has really grabbed me. I've investigated Necrophagist alumni's various projects as well as other tech death royalty (Spawn of Possession, Beyond Creation, First Fragment, etc.) and though I like a lot of them, they mostly don't stick for me. It's ironic, then, that I'm writing a double tech death review for two albums released in the same month, but here we are. Maybe it's because they're both space metal....I do love space metal....

Artwork by Eliran Kantor.

What grabs me about Necrophagist is the successful juxtaposition of neo classical solos over top of filthy death metal riffs. Until Virvum took that template to space on Illuminance, adding synths and leaning on augmented arpeggios, not much else "post-necrophagist" had stuck with me. Archspire take all the parts I love about Virvum and Necrophagist and dial them up while also adding aspects I generally thought I didn't like about tech death; relentlessly fast drums and extreme extended range guitars. I like Relentless Mutation a lot. Archspire have won over this tech death cynic.

Archspire write songs. Above everything else that's what makes Relentless Mutation work. The riffs, solos and vocals all work together to create songs. Faster and more complex songs than most bands, but songs first. There's a flow to the songs that guides the listener through their whirlwind of musicianship. Plus, spacey synths and solos are always a good thing in my book.

The core of the sound is ridiculously fast riffs, inhuman drumming and ridiculous neo-classical solos. They even manage to utilize extended range guitars without coming anywhere close to the "inept Meshuggah" sound lots of bands end up with. Almost unique to Archspire, though, are vocals that keep pace with everything else. The lyric video for "Involuntary Doppelganger" is almost too fast to read. The vocal style will likely be polarizing but it suits the band and increases the cohesion of their sound.

I find Archspire are a bit too "up to 11" to be an all out win for me. Though Relentless Mutation is a stronger album than Illuminance and less overt Necrophagist worship, I personally prefer Virvum's approach because they really embrace the atmospheric side of their sound slowing things way down for long periods. That's not a criticism, though, merely my personal preference. Archspire are extremely talented and write amazing songs.

Given my general tech death cynicism, anyone looking for amazing, creative, neoclassical tech death that absolutely doesn't let up needs to check out Archspire. They've created one of two tech death albums to really grab me since 2005, and that's no mean feat.

Artwork by Dr.Winter.

Gigan sound like Gigan and only Gigan and Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence sounds like Gigan. The closest reference point would be Artificial Brain with a dash of Portal, but Gigan are the undulating, tentacled eldritch space horror to Artificial Brain's soot covered, smoke belching robot overlord. They're also the farthest thing from Archspire despite undeniably being technical death metal. Gigan are the antithesis of the tight tech death of both the neo-classical solo loving side of tech death and the complex dissonance of Gorguts and their myriad followers. They also predate the recent influx of WASDM (Weird-Ass Space Death Metal), having been releasing albums since 2008.

Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, and various other "Dissonant death metal" are something I usually appreciate but don't really actually want to listen to. I love Gigan, though. They are similar in sound but their approach is more organic; ebbing and flowing through ambient interludes, dissonant madness and massive headbanging riffs seemingly by feel rather than due to tightly constructed songs.

There's an almost lazy feeling to the flow largely due to the amazingly laid back drumming in the face of the buzzing guitar riffs. The drumming creates an overall groove that's unmatched by any other technical band and makes Gigan's flow seem effortless.

Interestingly, though the record features some of the most accessible WASDM riffs in tracks like "Plume of Ink Within a Vacuum" and "Ocular Wavelengths' Floral Obstructions", the album is bookended by two 10 minute tracks that hold nothing back and have no interest whatsoever in accessibility (one of them, "Wading Forwards Through Matter and Backwards Through Time" has to be in the top 5 track titles of 2017).

You have to want to get into Gigan and they don't seem to care if you don't. But they really are among the most accessible WASDM and my personal favourite. There's an addictive weirdness to Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence that keeps me coming back. Essential listening if you're up for the strangeness.

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