REVIEW: EXOCRINE – “Maelstrom”
Exocrine is a technical death metal band from Bordeaux, France, and Maelstrom is their fourth studio record. Now that the facts are out of the way, Malestrom is an extremely rewarding record that Exocrine should be proud of and will and should be well received by fans and newcomers alike.
On the surface Maelstrom is your run-of-the-mill tech-death record, in that it has all the requisite bells and whistles: finger ripping riffs, hyperspeed blast beats, and double bass, shreddy solos, and growled vocals, laced with trappings of modern prog death metal like dissonant tapped leads, etc. But there is so much more going on that elevates Maelstrom, and by extension Exocrine, above the slew of mediocrity pervading the genre. Malestrom has taken a deep-dive into the cosmic horror of a Lovecraftian world with the song titles, lyrical themes, and tonal vibe in the entire album. With tracks like “Orbital Station” “The Wreck” “Starvation Project” “The Chosen One” and “Galactic Gods”, Exocrine may just be the panacea for all those disgruntled Aversions Crown fans who felt they had been baited on their latest (but still proficient) record “Hell Will Come For Us All”. Looking at the album cover and the presence of a track literally named “The Kraken”, the Lovecraftian themes are in your face, but these elements blend together quite well with other sci-fi genre tropes.
Album opener and title track “Maelstrom” wastes no time in telling us exactly what this record is all about, techy, violent, groovy, and layered. What it also does is add new elements, perhaps unfamiliar to Exocrine, the addition of clean vocals. The clean vocals are not your whiny metalcore ones, rather something that would feel at home on a Rivers of Nihil, Black Crown Initiate, or The Faceless record. The clean vocals never overstay their welcome, and add another layer of variety on a quick-to-tire barrage of expected guttural growls and barked vocals.
Tracks like “The Kraken” and “Wall of Water” throw more curveballs at us, synth intros that could easily be mistaken for being an intro to an Archspire track. Though backed by the trademark Exocrine near-deathcore chugs before catapulting into razorwire riffs, reminds us that this is an Exocrine track, adding new dimensions to the ever-increasing repertoire of tracks. “Wall of Water” and “The Kraken” are a great mix of deathcore, and tech-death with backing ambient keyboard samples to add heft, again snatching at Aversions Crown’s well, crown. If that wasn’t enough, “Wall of Water” throws in a jazzy trumpet solo with a backdrop of crashing waves, just to ram the point home, that Exocrine are willing to throw everything into this record, including the kitchen sink, resulting in an aptly named Maelstrom. The parallels to Aversions Crown becomes stark yet again, this time with “Abyssal Flesh”, which would be hard to past a blind A-B test, with the downtuned low-end djent-infused riffs layered with finger-flaying leads, quick riffs, held together by grandiose synths. Tracks like “Orbital Station” and “The Chosen One” have staccato rhythm sections and tentacled melodic leads that dance effortlessly between Archspire, The Faceless, and Rivers of Nihil, especially when coupled with the drums and the choppy growled vocals. Album closer “Galactic Gods” has a sax/brass section backed by guitar noodles that Michael Keene (The Faceless) would kick himself for not including on “Autotheism”. Not to keep any stone unturned and an influence, Rings of Saturn regards its weedly-solo’d head into many of the tracks, though thankfully never dilute the overall cohesion of the songwriting or the general listenability with mindless shreds flexing skill rather than adding to the landscape.
The production on Maelstrom is par for the course for extreme layered death metal, dense and crowded but providing the many layers to shine through. The notable deviation from the norm is the choice of rhythm guitar tones. On Maelstrom, Exocrine eschewed the usual mechanical sterile guitar tone for a more “raw” and rough around the edges tone, with close similarities to The Faceless’ “Authotheism”. While this is not this consumer’s personal preference, it will find support among many listeners who are jaded by the by-the-numbers heavily digital guitar tones that pervade the modern extreme metal genre. The tone does normalize into the rest of the soundscape quickly and adds texture to the overall sound, without overly messing up the finished product.
There is never a wasted moment, a trope unused, an element unattended to on Maelstrom. This record is a dense, technical, ferocious, and most importantly, enjoyable, and finished product. It is a pity that Exocrine is not hailed among the greats of modern tech-death. Yet, if there was ever a record to elevate them, Malestrom would be the one.