Get ready to headbang like you probably haven’t before in your entire life Ophidian I drop a fat brick on the gas pedal and let it rip like basically no one else. Desolate is probably the finest in tech-death we’re going to have this year, and dare I say, maybe even this decade. Today my fellow writer Jean Pierre and I are going to butt heads with this hulking mass of metal and see what comes of it.
R: Hey man, how’s it going?
JP: Eh, all good, getting done with my morning routine and also getting ready to tackle this beast. How about you?
R: Enjoying a cooler day with plenty of rain – an absolute blessing. I fucking hate summer.
JP: I wish I was blessed with the rains (cue Toto) but alas, I must suffer the heat and humidity. Well, where do we even start with Desolate?
R: So, this is quite an avalanche of sounds. I haven’t been this blown away by a tech-death album since Dying Fetus‘s Reign Supreme dropped, and that was nearly a decade ago. Tech-death, to me at least, is definitely a subgenre that has been smoked and over-smoked to death and back into the oblivion from whence it came. So, naturally, it’s difficult even for seasoned or creative bands to up the ante in some palpable or refreshing way. I feel that Ophidian I really hit home on almost all angles. What do you think?
JP: Although I’m a lot more familiar with the newer, more modern tech-death albums/bands as opposed to the older groups, I am inclined to agree. I haven’t heard of this band before, and that makes it even more mind-blowing that this group seemingly came out of nowhere and beat Archspire at their own game. Tech-death isn’t something I listen to often because it can be exhausting and smoked over and over as you said, but something about this record is just different.
R: That difference you mentioned is also something I caught on to, although I doubt it could escape anyone given how glaring it is. Now, what is difficult is pinpointing what exactly is it. Luckily, with some input from a very technically savvy friend, we managed to clear this out.
First of all, what really gives the entire deal its distinctive flavor is the heavy usage of Mixolydian and Dorian modes in their lead melodies, as opposed to the classic go-to Phrygian, which is an all-time tech-death favorite. This makes the melodic side hearken back more heavily to power metal, neo-classical metal, and similar areas, as such scales and arpeggios are part of their respective compositional foundations.
Another thing would be the choice of covering the entire note selections in one massive arpeggio, which makes these neat cascading effects. Fun fact: both of these techniques are part of Chopin‘s trademark sound.
JP: Ah, that is definitely good to know, and it makes this album and all the songs within it that much more impressive! Given the nature of the Phrygian scale, it is a lot more obvious to distinguish, whereas I find it difficult identifying the usage of the other scales and the transitioning between them all. It is baffling how seamless these compositions were put together, as the inclusion of various scales really does give it that power metal vibe as you said, but without the cheese of course. Ophidian I‘s emphasis on the melodic nature of the music, especially in a genre that isn’t particularly known for its melodic-ness all the time (rather than for its unrelenting speed and brutality) is what I think sets this record aside from the rest. All those melodies help this record stick that much more in my head. I mean seriously – listen to the main riff to the opening track, “Diamond”, and tell me that isn’t infectious as hell!
R: I think that in some weird and twisted way, the first four songs basically pay homage to pop. I cannot fathom the immensely catchy and groovy delivery of the riffs and the melodies. “Diamond” is a perfect example of this for sure, although I feel that my personal favorites range between “Spiral to Oblivion” and “Unfurling the Crescent Moon”. I must’ve listened to “Unfurling the Crescent Moon” more than the rest of the album combined, hahaha. I think that this level of being catchy while also heavy as fuck is the stuff of magic.
Funnily enough, my flatmate was walking by my room as the solo from “Storm Aglow” was playing. He just stood in the door confused for a moment and went ‘Are you listening to… Dragonforce?‘. Of course, I paused and laughed my heart out, but I immediately understood what he was pointing at. I merely concluded that ‘Dragonforce wish they were this cool’.
Personally, I’m also reminded in a way of a contrast achieved by Scar Symmetry on The Singularity (Phase I – Neohumanity). They similarly place a lot of bright melodic lines against heavy and dark riffage, albeit they also employ clean vocals.
Going back to the Dragonforce remark, I’d like to point out how impressive the technical prowess of the band is. Sure, such levels have been attained previously, but it somehow never ceases to amaze me when someone else gets there as well. I also feel like the drummer especially is an absolute beast. I mean by speed alone, he skyrockets to the top of the percussionist food chain.
JP: As cheesy as their music can be, Dragonforce are great at playing their instruments, and the same most definitely applies to Ophidian I and then some. As you said, their instrumentation is balls to the fucking wall, and it makes me want to set my own instruments on fire because I won’t ever be a fraction as good as they are. I am still in pure disbelief that anyone can compose and even play stuff like this and make it sound as stellar as it does here. Guitarwork like this only sends Lucas Mann further into obscurity, to soon be forgotten.
Although I am more of a dynamic-preferring kinda guy when it comes to instrumentation as opposed to pure speed and power, especially in the drumming, I would be a buffoon to deny the chops their drummer has as you said. One of my favorite parts about the percussion on this record, aside from the speed, is the incredibly magical cymbal work. There are so many brief moments in which a flurry of cymbal crashes is perfectly timed to fill in a very small space in the music, and it’s small details like that that I live for.
R: I have to say, the cymbal work is definitely good. Like basically everything else on the record, its timing is basically perfect, and it fills in just the right spots. I also think that their specific sounds have been very nicely chosen for each of their respective spots.
Speaking of dynamics, I also tend to prefer that over sheer technical wankery – to put it bluntly. However, in this case, both are united in a crazy neat way. The one thing that kind of left me wanting was the vocal delivery. Not that it wasn’t on point and brutal, because it was very much so; it’s just that it felt sort of monotonous and stock. It’s the same kind of deep growl I’ve heard on literally every other death metal album ever. I think the record could’ve benefited from more nuance on this side of things, while there are some parts that I feel like could’ve done away with the vocal accompaniment altogether. Do you also see it somewhat like this, or is it just me?
JP: Yeah, as you said it yourself, I too much prefer dynamics to musical masturbation. With that being said, Desolate is the perfect middle ground between the two, and this record shines so bright because of that. I am aware that many people will shrug the album off because it seems like pure instrumental wankery, but digging a little deeper into the music reveals masterful composition hidden behind the godlike instrumentation. The music is very well-composed, although it seems like one of those shred fests at face value. Desolate is of course a shred fest, but a well put-together one at that.
Regarding the vocals, I am on the same page as you. They are pretty monotonous, but I personally don’t mind as I am fully sucked into the instrumentation each and every time I listen to this record. It is something I can easily gloss over, since the rest of the music is just so damn stunning. There are plenty of moments where the Archspire-esque machine gun fire vocals induce the stankiest of stank faces, but other than that it seems pretty par for the tech-death course. Again, it isn’t something that bothers me at all on this record in reality.
R: I can’t say that I’m bothered by this, but it left me wanting since everything else was amazing. It sort of warranted something amazing in terms of vocals too. I guess you can tell that I’m nitpicking at this point.
I really can’t find any faults with this beast to be honest, as much as I look. It even nailed the production big time with a beefy, super clearly defined sound, and full-bodied sound. To top it all off, they knew exactly where to stop. I mean not that tech-death albums go over the half hour mark ever, but the band definitely had a good sense of exactly how far to take the entire whirlwind of madness.
All signs indicate that we’re dealing with a group of seasoned musicians who jive well together and from whom we might as well expect more of this kind of music from.
JP: That’s totally fair. With everything else being so exceptional, anything short of that would stand out and leave us wanting more.
Regarding the length of the record, I am on the same page that Desolate is the perfect length. As exhausting as this style of music can be at times, it’s easy to want to move on to something else, but this album is short and sweet and doesn’t overstay its welcome at all. It’s actually one of the few tech-death records I want to dive back into right away; others I need a break before I come back to listen as it takes a lot to properly enjoy them. I cannot praise the composition enough here.
R: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I must’ve listened to the album at least a dozen times in the past few days since its release. There’s something almost hypnotic about the way I could just mow down on it back-to-back. Indeed tech-death can be demanding and strenuous to listen to for long periods of time, but somehow, this record doesn’t apply the same kind of stress, even though it’s heavier than most of its kind in certain ways. Desolate is clearly a masterpiece in the realm of tech-death and I see it aging as a classic in the future. Would you have anything else to add in conclusion?
JP: Well, you took the words right out of my mouth; I couldn’t have said it any better, so I won’t even bother trying.
I can easily see this being the tech-death album to beat this year, with the only competition being the legendary First Fragment. But in reality, it isn’t necessarily a competition, as both bands are masters of their own unique brand of teach death. I love them both to death (hehe) and am ecstatic to see how Ophidian I blow our feeble minds next!