REVIEW: ALLEGAEON – “Damnum”
Tech metal masters Allegaeon have been working hard on their sixth studio album, ‘Damnum’, due to release on February 25th, 2022. While Allegaeon is well known for incredible riffs, solos, and mind-bending complex leads, its vocalist Riley McShane ends up stealing the show this time. The band has dabbled with adding clean vocals since McShane joined the band in 2015, and their presence is increased in Damnum. Normally, I would expect this to be a divisive choice for any extreme metal band, but the quality of singing present here is so high that I expect this direction to be embraced by all but the most curmudgeonly of metal fans. Screams and growling are still very much the dominant method applied, and McShane sounds better than ever here, too.
New drummer Jeff Saltzman also puts in an incredible debut, shifting the band’s sound in a new, more dynamic direction. The drum structures are pleasingly varied, but it’s when he really lets loose in the (relatively) more straightforward death metal tracks such as “Blighted” and “Saturnine” that his inhuman stamina and control are revealed.
Greg Burgess explains that “This is really the first record where the drummer has written all their parts, instead of us guitar players programming a beat and having our drummer just write the fills,” and McShane adds, “pairing him with our bass player Brandon Michael, we have a rhythm section that can keep up with the level of musicality and proficiency the guitars have always brought to the table.” The difference is notable; while I loved previous albums, it wouldn’t be an unfair criticism to say that occasionally songs came across as vehicles for guitar virtuosity. Damnum is different. Each song is unique and has many hidden details that reveal themselves upon repeat listens. This album sounds like something created by a band rather than directed by a dominant songwriter.
Allegaeon also seems to be wearing their influences on their sleeve more than ever, at least to my ears. “Called Home” wouldn’t sound amiss if it was included on one of Opeth’s fan-favorite albums, while album closer Only Loss channels Devin Townsend’s heavier era in more ways than one. Of course, there are plenty of songs here that sound like no one else except Allegaeon, including the album opener “Bastards of the Earth”, which continues their tradition of seamlessly moving from soothing acoustic guitars to blasting death metal.
The production for Damnum is also solid, albeit with a caveat. I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile; in fact, I’d argue that the best audio equipment is whatever the listener is used to and will provide minimal distractions. In this case, however, using your bundled-in headphones or cheap wireless buds is likely to bury the many subtle nuances of this album in a muddy wall of sound. Damnum particularly shines with a neutrally balanced sound profile, revealing details from the guitars, bass, and keyboards that are easily lost in the ever-popular v-shaped profiles of many headphones.
It’s hard to find much to criticize, however for me, this album was more of a slow burn than previous releases, taking a few listens before I began to warm to it. This is partly because Damnum has slightly reduced the focus on guitar techniques and balls to wall riffery present on something like Proponent for Sentience. It’s an unavoidable consequence of creating more well-rounded songs, but it may be disappointing to some.
‘Damnum’ introduces many new ideas while still sounding distinctly Allegaeon. It’s the sound of a band at the top of their game evolving and exploring new ideas without forgetting what earned them their fans in the first place. Damnum earns the highest score I’ve given out at Metal Wani and is essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in metal.