As we all know by now, trends within many aspects of pop culture tend to be a revolving evolution. Ideas that were once in vogue come back again and again, albeit in varying versions of their former selves. This is the case for the new metal band led by Atheist veteran Kelly Shaefer, Till The Dirt. Born from the COVID lockdown and the creative wellspring of isolation, this is a band that sounds very little like the aforementioned’s legendary death metal and jazz hybrid act that has been widely influential in the progressive metal scene. So let’s get into that.
Till The Dirt aren’t a death metal band as much as they are a bit of a chameleon that can warp and shape into a variety of forms across their debut album – an album that coaxed legendary death metal producer Scott Burns out of retirement, no less. Their take on progressive ideas without begging ‘prog’ comes from mixing groove, technical, and death metal with some desert rock and grunge for good measure. It doesn’t take long to identify all of these sounds, as right from the jump the thundering opener “Starring Role” taps into all of these ideas and blends them into a memorable and catchy track that doesn’t sacrifice brutality on the altar of dynamics.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, cycles are always in motion within art and culture and to that end, Till The Dirt have mined the past and reinterpreted it – if you’re a fan of Strapping Young Lad and that late 90’s and early 2000’s metal where the genre was morphing into new ideas, as thrash was hitting a new stride and death metal was fading in popularity, at least in a traditional sense. With the benefit of hindsight, Shaefer no doubt has been able to sift through some of these ideas and determine which worked for him and then filter them through his own sensibilities, and from that we get tracks such as “Outside the Spiral” which features one of the best vocal hooks that I’ve heard all year.
While this band is still sort of in the ‘project’ phase, making a lot of the players on the record more or less guests, there are plenty of noteworthy (yes, pun intended) musicians that are featured and hold things down on the strings and the kit. Steve DiGiorgio and Jeff Loomis make appearances on a track each to bring some additional classic metal to bear while the rest of the musicians – some of which tour with Shaefer’s current incarnation of Atheist – keep every song feeling alive, fresh, and unpredictable. Anthony ‘Apollo’ Medaglia holds down the kit on the record from start to finish and is having a great time blasting through tracks like “Insist and Demand” and “Watch You Grow Old”, with tight time-keeping throughout and killer tones that pair perfectly with the overall atmosphere of this album.
When I heard that Kelly Shaefer had a new project and that Scott Burns was producing it, my expectations shot through the roof: what a pair of legends. After having some time to digest these songs and this concept I’m still quite impressed. Not only by just how different this album is compared to previous work, but just how youthful and forward thinking it is from start to finish. Outside the Spiral is a record that can bring in fans from a variety of metal fandoms and will have something in store for each and every one. My hope is this is a band that will continue to produce music and, hell, maybe even tour. Till The Dirt have a chance to be the newcomer of the year and that’s no small feat in the ever-expanding metal landscape.