Sunday, May 1, 2016

Abnormality - Mechanisms of Omniscience

Major label perils

Once upon a time, Abnormality was notable for being the only good band to ever release anything on Sevared Records, that murky swamp of lo-fi slam with precisely zero quality control.  So yeah, imagine my surprise the first time I heard Abnormality, the American quintet of death metallers who nail that perfect blend of brutality and technicality without falling into the frequent trappings of either niche.  On Contaminating the Hive Mind, there were neither endless stretches of noodly technicality, entirely lacking in adrenaline and instead sounding like the most impressively boring thing in the universe like the legions of Rings of Saturns of the world, nor were there 30 minute slogs of slam after slam after slam with no hooks or upticks in tempo or anything of the sort like basically all of their labelmates.  It was a masterful blend of the two, similar to how Suffocation so brilliantly pulled it off in the early 90s, with the key difference being that Abnormality generally kept the pace a little higher and had less out-of-nowhere time changes.  Basically it was easily one of the best albums of 2012 and I have been dying to hear more from them ever since.

Well that day has come, and they've since jumped ship from that self collapsing vortex of inanity that is Sevared and landed on the high profile home of Cannibal Corpse and Hail of Bullets, Metal Blade.  With a new major label backing and a juggernaut of hype, they have finally unleashed Mechanisms of Omniscience.  And how's it sound?  Well... kinda disappointing.

I'll admit right away that I'm being a little bit unfair, because the major problem with the record is that it simply isn't as good as Contaminating the Hive Mind.  I know that's unfair, but there is a lingchi of tiny annoyances that all sort of coalesce into one bummer.  The most obvious of which is that the production is just too damn sterile.  This is a weird complaint coming from me, because I like plenty of salad shooter styled tech death bands that are as spotless as a hospital floor, but Abnormality had already shown us a perfect production job on their previous album.  We already know that some added rawness adds a ton to the pummeling grooves the band has in store for listeners, so the opening notes of "Swarm" immediately made me switch back over to the previous album and see if I was remembering its sound wrong.  I wasn't.  The guitars are pushed back, the snare drum is piercing, and the vocals are louder than everything else by a sizable margin.  I hate complaining about modern production jobs, because I feel like most people who do that are oldnoobs who refuse to adjust with the times, but here it really does work to the record's detriment.  It lacks an explosive punch, and a little bit more harshness in the tone would have worked wonders for Mechanisms of Omniscience.

Another flaw is that, well, none of the songs particularly stand out.  For a tech death album that really isn't uncommon, but there are flashes of brilliance scattered around that show they have the ability to craft a standout song.  The harmonized solo in "Hopeless Masses", the rare example of an instrumental interlude in this style of "Assimilation", that part around two minutes into "Vigilant Ignorance" where the fermata hits and the band holds for a second before exploding into the strongest and most insane segment of the entire album, accompanied by potentially the best riff they ever wrote, those parts all dominate.  They have an ear for subtle and twisted melody that permeates every once in a while, but instead mostly stick to their trademark hyperblasting ridiculousness.  Granted, this is obviously just a band playing to their strengths, as they do wreck shit when they just go all out and unfurl the most high minded brutality they can, but the little touches of great songwriting hooks are few and far between, and most of the album ends up as a faceless blur as a result.

Generally that last paragraph alone is enough for a high fifties score, most likely in the negatives, but in all honesty, this is a really good faceless blur.  It's not the most memorable album out there, but for this style, it's up there.  "Vigilant Ignorance" alone is worth the price of admission, with that aforementioned insane middle section and some Cerebral Bore styled slams, it's varied enough to remain at full speed throughout the entire six minute runtime.  What the band doesn't feature deserves a mention too, because thanks to bands like Fallujah and Beyond Creation, the scene has been flooded with progressive, spacey concepts and longwinded noodly sections that impress guitar nerds and nobody else.  Abnormality doesn't fuck around with that shit.  When they do slow down, like on "Consuming Infinity", they take the harrowing Morbid Angel approach instead, and there are basically zero forced lead lines flittering around in the foreground at any point.  The only atmosphere they want to create is one of overwhelming desperation, a furious prisoner thrashing against his chains.  The twisted, angular, disjointed riffage and nigh endless blasting create a furious hellstorm of debris that keep listeners on their toes, never quite sure how the next section is going to pulverize you.  They also seem to be one of the few tech death bands that excel when the songs are given time to develop, since "Vigilant Ignorance" and "Consuming Infinity" are pretty easily the best songs here, and they're two of the three that run over four minutes in length (they're both nearly six minutes long).  They're a strange paradox in that their at their best when they're just blasting forward at full speed, but the moments when they add pummeling groove and slower/more mid paced sections seem to be the moments when their songs create their strongest moments.

So it's flawed, and it's an obvious step down from their debut, but Mechanisms of Omniscience isn't bad.  There are enough moments to help it stand out from the crowd, but not enough to launch it into the upper pantheon with Fleshgod Apocalypse's first album and the Vile Conception thru Sedition streak from Hour of Penance.  Yeah, the production is a bit sterile and the vocals are a little bland (there wasn't really a place to mention it before, but on the debut they were extremely savage (think Effigy of the Forgotten era Frank Mullen), whereas here they're pretty standard sounding apart from the few segments when they go deep and take on a more Cerebral Bore/Defeated Sanity vibe), but it's overall pretty good.  Fans of the style should love it for sure, it's just lacking that extra punch of the scattered hooks of Contaminating the Hive Mind.  We really need more sections like the chorus of "A Chaos Reserved"!

RATING - 73%

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