REVIEW: RINGS OF SATURN – “Gidim”
Technical weedle-core Rings of Saturn are back with their intergalactic horror-themed album Gidim and ready to attempt to shred their way into the record books once more time. This record is a follow up thematically and sonically to Dingir, Lugal Ki En, and most recently, 2017’s Ultu Ulla.
Rings of Saturn shine their brightest when they dial back their absurd sense of grandiose fretboard dance and buckle down to write memorable if slower and more structured sections. Opener Pustules has well-crafted riffs, partly written by guest guitarist Charles Caswell (from berried Alive) and set the stage for Gidim. Another great example of mature songwriting is the opening section on Mental Prolapse; the synth intro and main riff are drippingly good and progress exquisitely when backed up with the chugs into a swaying melodic deathcore passage, only to be punctuated by the frustrating trademark Rings of Saturn wankfest. Tracks like Genetic Inheritance which border on “generic” deathcore come off as the strongest tracks when they focus on writing a cohesive song with a sound that ties it all together rather than relying on a mix-and-match of high-BPM self-congratulation. Any time Rings of Saturn takes a step back from their fretted masturbation, they write monstrously enjoyable riffs and Face the Wormhole is another example of the greatness that Gidim/Rings of Saturn has the potential of reaching.
Lead single The Husk is an example of how frustratingly good guitarists Lucas Mann and Joel Omans are; the final two minutes acoustic riff backed solo is tasteful as it is technical; well-executed, and more importantly, well thought out. Album closer, the instrumental Gidim is yet another example of why Rings of Saturn could be winners if they so chose. The track is full of larger chordal arrangements, keyboard arrangements, restraint and build-ups that justify the presence of their niche tech which comes off as welcomed rather than a chore. In addition, there are sonic snippets of dissonant guitars/keyboards that litter Gidim that are used incredibly well, like those on Hypodermis Glitch and Tormented Consciousness.
Lastly, the vocals on Gidim are an absolute win! The first appearance of vocalist Ian Bearer is a great addition to the roster. His range from guttural lows (looking at you Bloated and Stiff), barked mids, raspy fry vocals, and high-register screeches are well-executed, and the dynamics are well appreciated. Additional graviton bomb growls provided by Dan Watson on Hypodermis Glitch (of Enterprise Earth fame) are a welcome addition as well. It is surprising to this listener, that on a record from a band whose signature niche relies on a technicality, the vocals come off as the most consistent winner.
Rings of Saturn are guilty of the cardinal technical extreme metal sin: trying to do too much. In a saturated genre where technicality and brutality are revered, there is a finite level of notes and sonics you can cram into a track or a record before the entire soundscape goes from memorable to saturated, and ultimately tiresome. Every track on Gidim has Brain Drill “weedle” shred sections that go on just a tad too long and quickly blend into one another. A great example of doing bonkers level guitar shred right is Archspire, early Beneath The Massacre, and more recently Infant Annihilator. Where those bands rely on an over-the-top technicality to supplement sections with maturity and gravitas, bands like Virameia do nothing but dance like ants over their fretboards to an almost memed level. Rings of Saturn try, albeit unsuccessfully to find a happy medium and please neither of those demographics. The hundred-notes-an-hour are placed haphazardly and serve more as creatively (though certainly not physically) lazy arrangements which only serve themselves and add little-to-no depth to the general song or record in tota.
There are passages on Gidim where the lower end rhythm guitars throw out the stutter shuffle chug gimmick like on the intro to Tormented Consciousness and come off as a lazy clone of Within the Ruins, although guest shred lord Yo Onityan does add much-needed spice to the track. The chuggy-part of deathcore are utterly lackluster through the entire runtime of Gidim which may be a conscious choice to focus on the “shredz” but are ill-served by the long-drawn-out mindless noodling and serve as bland appetizers rather than the punchy punctuation they should be, and are terribly betrayed by the low-end of the mix and guitar tones. The drums are sterile to a point of sounding like a demo than a released record. The clicky kicks, the compressed cymbals, and lifeless snare lack any kind of human element, and if a conscious choice to add to the alien imagery that Rings of Saturn are chasing, then they could not have done a better job.
The low end of the mix on Gidim is a garbled mushy mess with next to no definition. It is a significant challenge to produce a crisp record with extended range eight-string guitars with high-gain amps, but Gidim fails spectacularly at doing it. The lower register of the tracks is muddy and boomy, making the chuggier sections of a deathcore album, nigh unlistenable. In contrast, the higher ranged sweeped and/or tapped sections are clipped, quantized, and compressed to an extent that they sound like artificially MIDI-programmed, trite 8-bit nonsense. Whether any of these sections were tracked via actual instrumentation and not programmed, and whether the band can pull these sections live to the same degree of robotic efficiency, has been a matter of past scandal with Rings of Saturn and Gidim does little to mitigate those questions.
This listener’s gratingly unfortunate concluding opinion is that buried within Gidim is a good record, perhaps even a great record, but Rings of Saturn add so much fluff, bloat, and protracted sections of wankery that they begin to siphon off energy from their own material. In this regard, Gidim could have been better served by a strict producer making strategic cuts to the bloat. Fans of Rings of Saturn will consume Gidim with the ravenous hunger of a Lovecraftian beast, but I cannot see this record bringing in any new listeners and does very little to break any new ground.
Gidim is a technically proficient but emotionally void record with far too much pomp and fat which will tire rather than inspire. Rings of Saturn will continue to be amazing musicians who struggle to be proficient songwriters, and Gidim makes minuscule steps to change that.