Once upon a time, there was an unwritten rule that if you wanted to call yourself a technical death metal band, you had to have the chops and the brutality to back that up. Today, it seems to be substantially less so. Not all is completely lost – things have just changed fairly dramatically is all.
We start back around ’91 – ‘92 with Aeon, Gorguts, and Necrophagist putting out some landmark records, particularly Necrophagist’s ‘Epitaph’, seeing as they haven’t put out an album in decades and people are still hopeful for a new one anytime soon. Then you have one of my personal favorites from the great white north, Cryptopsy, making their debut with the monstrosity avant garde ‘Blasphemy Made Flesh’ followed by the iconic ‘None So Vile’. Across the board, you saw bands pushing the limits of death metal in speed, brutality, and most importantly for the sake of this article, technicality. No one up till this point had played like these guys, as blindingly fast and precise as Cephalic Carnage, or as groovy and heavy as Malignancy. The bar was really raised when Decapitated’s ‘Nihility’ came out, bringing tech-death into the eyes of the rest of the metal world. All across the board, you had bands putting out the heaviest, hardest, and most brutally technical albums they could muster with no thought as to how flashy it might look or sound. These guys just wanted to be brutal and fucking heavy, which is the way death metal is supposed to be played. Origin came on the scene in 1997 and raised the bar exponentially, and continues to do so to this day by still putting out top tier records.
As we hit the 2000s, we see a diversification take place. Some bands begin to really take off with the technicality aspect, like Brain Drill, Viraemia, and Reciprocal, playing unbelievably complicated music that confounds the mind to watch live. At the same time, we see other influences begin to seep into the genre and make for some incredible combinations. Take Ulcerate for example – they’re very avant garde and incredibly hard to label but their music is absolutely ethereal and devastating. Then you see bands take on orchestral influences and become classically-inspired technical bands such as Fleshgod Apocalypse or Septicflesh. After the mid-2000s, we can see a movement towards a more flashy style of technicality in bands instead of a focus on an overall cohesive brutality. There are more solos, longer solos, more leads over simpler rhythms, etc. Bands at the forefront of this newer wave of modern tech-death would be like Allegaeon, The Faceless, Archspire, Fallujah, Cognizance, and The Zenith Passage. The guitar tones are cleaner, tighter, and less distorted, yet still heavy as all hell. The solo work is still incredible, however it can get a little overwhelming for some people. You can tell this new generation of guitar virtuoso’s were inspired by their pre-2000s predecessors and are simply trying to take things to the next level; the only problem is that no one quite knows where the next level really is. Is it in the spacey, ethereal vibes of Fallujah, the fat meaty tones of Rivers of Nihil, or is it in the coldly calculated precision of Soreption? I like to think it can be all of them. However, I do have a few issues with where things are going in the world of technical death metal. Things have begun to merge to much with prog and are warping into some pseudo death metal wanna-be shit that is not okay at all. Best example is the new Obscura album ‘Akrosis’, while overall it wasn’t a bad album if you’ve never listened to Obscura before, but as a long time fan, I was pretty disappointed that it came out to be a massive wankfest over who could solo the best for the longest instead of who could write the best death metal song like things used to be. It seems to be the days of well structured and composed tracks are dying, to be replaced by lengthy solos and leads. Some bands have taken this to the ultimate extreme, for example, our Canadian buddies, Archspire. Before my words get twisted, I want it to be clear, I am a fan of the band, however they do personify exactly what I’m talking about with the corruption of tech-death. It’s not longer about the music, it’s become a pissing contest over who can play the fastest and most ridiculous music which they’re approaching the end threshold very quickly. I know the guys in Archspire are great songwriters and that they can do more than just sweep at 360bpm, but if that’s what they want to do, then that’s their prerogative.
All in all, I think the big bands in the technical death metal genre are either getting soft or getting too wrapped up in themselves and need to get back to doing what they used to do so well. I could list for days how many great tech-death bands there are out there and still not scratch the surface so if I left out your favorite, it wasn’t on purpose. Bands definitely worth checking out anyway that haven’t been mentioned yet would be; Defeated Sanity, Hour of Penance, Gorgasm, Malignancy, Nile, Psycroptic, Spawn of Possession, Deeds of Flesh, Decrepit Birth, and Serocs.