Splicing a host of ideas into a new species of brutal death metal, Afterbirth continue their transcendence and ascent as one of the most interesting bands around.

Release date: October 20, 2023 | Willowtip Records | Facebook | X/Twitter | Instagram | Bandcamp

Swirling guitar rhythms, ringing cymbals, a dense atmosphere punctuated by thick bass lines, and vocals from another dimension. For fans of Afterbirth this is what we have come to expect, specifically after the band’s reformation and their albums The Time Traveler’s Dilemma and Four Dimensional Flesh. It’s been a few years since the latter and after a label switch to the stalwart and forward thinking Willowtip Records, In But Not Of is a record that I know many have been looking forward to for a long time, myself included. Having interviewed guitarist Cody Drasser earlier this year and him dropping hints and what this record will offer, I’ve been salivating over what it would bring and just how Afterbirth would grow and expand on their next outing. If you’re new to the band you’d better buckle up because they’re simply not like anything else you’ll hear.

It takes zero time at all for In But Not Of to leap off of the goddamn deep end and throw listeners into the swirling maelstrom that is their brand of death metal. “Tightening The Screws” and its opening counterpart “Devils With Dead Eyes” are two sides of a coin that Afterbirth prefers to leave in a quantum state rather that flip and leave to chance. There are multiple energies that are coalescing in these songs that pull from within and definitely without metal. Descending tom fills, grunge-adjacent leads, and shoegaze tone are spliced into an original hybrid of music that succeeds in not only uniqueness but also in proficiency. These strands are pulled throughout the album’s 36 minutes and along the way get dragged through other dyes and hues which allow these ideas to persist but also be presented in new ways.

Much like the albums that came before it, In But Not Of is an album that opens up as it progresses with the early songs feeling like a caged animal pawing at the door only to have that door burst open into a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells as the record gets a healthy dose of oxygen injected in the latter half. This is a smart way to compose an album but I will say that this by no means implies that intensity is missing on the backside of this record as tracks like “Death Invents Itself” are just as feral as they are explorative. This is a band that loves to fuck around and find out. “Hovering Human Head Drones” opens with a dreamy, lilting opening that would be at home on a variety of alternative or even shoegaze albums but the staccatissimo riffs interspersed with ‘Big’ Will Smith’s gurgled vocals make this a song that could confound anyone trying to label this band as one that is simply brutal death metal.

Knowing what I know of the tastes of the individual members of this band it is interesting and fun to watch them all bubble up to the surface as In But Not Of unfolds. Ambience, hardcore, black metal, doom, and more creep in at different times and those strands that I mentioned earlier all intertwine and create such an interesting palette with which this band paints. “Angels Feast On Flies” is a song that I think stands out due to the somewhat stark dynamics at play and really exemplifies what makes Afterbirth such a singular band: contrast. The anthemic atmosphere, layered synths, and lush guitar work are all contrasted by the otherworldly vocals that would absolutely overpower the identity of any other band were they performed in such a fashion, but Afterbirth takes this element and balances the scales with them.

Clocking in at a near-perfect 36 minutes this is the kind of album that is relentlessly enjoyable from start to finish. For a record that is as wildly experimental as this one, that is truly saying something. There have been plenty of acts that have put together albums that are artistically interesting through the fusion of ideas but there is often an academic hoity toity air to them where the merit of the ideas is judged by some rubric that has no basis in fun in the slightest. Afterbirth are one of the most experimental and forward-thinking acts in this space by a long shot and In But Not Of is one of the most enjoyable slices of music that you’ll listen to this year. Simply put, the fact that these guys have put together such an interesting set of ideas couched in brutal death metal but have emulsified so many other ideas within has not taken away any of the fun and excitement of doing just that.

While it hasn’t been that long since Afterbirth released a record, it seems that the anticipation and hype surrounding this album (at least in my circles) feels like something that we’ve been waiting ages for. I think that speaks to just how exciting this act is and seeing just how great of a trajectory they have had since reformation makes those of us who have enjoyed their output almost giddy to see what they do next. In But Not Of is a fantastic album that will doubtless claw its way to the top of the progressive death metal heap this year. Beyond that, however, I think this is a record that will forever be a testament to just how far you can push the genre without breaking it due to its incredible balance, brutality, and genuine sense of playful exploration.

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