Alluvial – Sarcoma (Album Review)

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Hardship is universal, but despite its destructive and damaging impact, it binds us together as humans. This is what death metal supergroup Alluvial are expressing in their brand new album “Sarcoma”. Each song visits a different facet of hardship and suffering, and they are tied together through the idea of ‘sarcoma’, a cancer that grows from connective tissue in the body. It’s a well-devised analogy that binds the album together in clearly suitable way. Sarcomas are nasty, malevolent and destructive, and this is reflected perfectly in the themes put forward by the band through the tracks.

The band’s sophomore album, released through metal giants Nuclear Blast Records, is a brilliant 10-track assault on the listener. It’s a profoundly aggressive yet intelligently written album, containing a vast array of metal styles. Moments of blistering technical onslaughts are thrown at us before we’re privy to some earth-shattering sequences. A mixture of slow, yet painfully heavy chugging patterns make their way onto the album, as do some gorgeous yet soft and devious melodic moments that eerily linger across the soundscape. Bands like Job for a Cowboy, Thy Art is Murder, The Faceless, Aversions Crown, Humanity’s Last Breath and Aborted come to mind throughout this album, something I was ecstatic to recognize. Alluvial’s ability to strongly harness many different styles and incorporate them naturally into a single listening experience is something that can’t be understated.

From start to finish, you’re given a full array of what Alluvial has to offer. The opening track “Ulysses” gives you a pretty blaring statement that they’re not here to relax, nor are they here to procure a mild response from the listener. The band grabs you, entrances you, and throws you hard at the ground when the time is right.

Their previous album, “The Deep Longing for Annihilation” (2017), was a purely instrumental exhibition of the band’s musical ability to deliver a vast and advanced enterprise of modern death metal. Even though it is completely without vocals, the skill and talent contained within the album is more than sufficient to engage the listener and put forward a great deal of captivating and impressive musical ideas. Despite the album sounding essentially complete as an instrumental spectacle, vocals were actually supposed to be present on the album. The reason for the absence was that the band wanted to fight the right voice, and at that point still hadn’t found it. Luckily for Alluvial, Kevin Muller (Ex-Suffocation) was up for the job, and possessed a voice that the band immediately fell in love with over the demos of “Sarcoma”.

Muller’s vocals are beastly; heavy as hell, yet easily understandable. There is the sense of controlled aggression that emanates from his demonic growls, a mastery over his ability to be indomitable as a metal vocalist. The words are punched out with such strength in the main hook for “40 Stories” that they rival the power of the kick drum on each beat. Other times the growls leak a small but noticeable feeling or emotion. When Muller screams “a crown of shit” in title track “Sarcoma”, he (almost certainly) purposely goes off-beat and lets the words come out almost like vomit, and I immediately felt his feelings of disgust and disdain as he describes the horrible way humans can be.

Muller’s roars are contrasted with some pleasantly surprising clean melodies from Wes Hauch, who is also the guitarist. They appear on multiple occasions throughout “Sarcoma”, such as during the hook to “Thy Underling”, or throughout most of “40 Stories”, a standout track and probably my favorite. It begins with a guitar melody so spellbinding it could charm a snake. The accompanying vocals are warm and breathy in the beginning, luring you into a precariously gentle atmosphere. However, it’s not long before you’re grabbed by the waist and waltzed into an insanely powerful chorus. It’s a blasting of huge long-held notes from Hauch, and a punchy rhythm underlining him. The guitars have an excessively catchy motif that transforms with the rest of the band into a superbly heavy formation, perhaps one of the heaviest on the album. The song had me bopping my head back and forward like a pissed-off pigeon. It’s a huge treat when bands can lash you with some staggering heaviness, but transition effortlessly to some truly beautiful clean and melodic instances. Bands like Opeth, Igorr, and Sleep Token immediately spring forward as examples in this regard.

It’s also nice to see that a great deal of rhyming occurs throughout the lyrics of the album. I feel that this helps to tie some sections together into really memorable moments; maybe that’s the magic of phono-aesthetics?

The instrumental members of the band have an inconceivably impressive understanding of composition and all of its elements. “Sugar Paper”, a massive instrumental performance spanning 5 minutes, is a highly impressive display from the band and deserves commendation. The listener is greeted with a jazzy and melancholic prelude, later weaved ever so seamlessly into a dark and captivating soundscape. The track builds and builds, showcasing new ideas and zig-zagging to unpredictable styles; thrash, groove, tech-death, good old vanilla death metal, you name it. Rhythms change from straight 32nd notes to triplets and back with such speed and frequency it’s almost hard to comprehend the skill required. Blast beats and long held chugs break up the more ambitious sections, yet these moments still possess a massive energy, like a volcano pulsating with lava, just before it erupts.

At other times throughout “Sarcoma”, some rhythms are flipped on themselves completely whilst still in the same time signature. The ending to “Exponent” is one of my favorite little variations because of this. The drums play a driving rhythm to compliment the guitar melody that is present in the introduction, almost as if it were just a simple 4-bar beat containing triplets, then after a short and thrashy drum fill, we’re thrown into a completely different rhythm. While this happens, the guitars continue with the same melody, almost as if nothing had happened. The result is a massive variation on the theme purely in rhythm and time, yet the symbiosis between the instruments remains completely intact. Call it ‘simple, yet effective’, but there’s nothing simple about the skill and creative intellect required to execute a short but innovative twist like this. Matt Paulazzo (Aegaeon) is beyond gifted in his drumming prowess, and his contribution to this album is so crucial to its success.

Speaking of simplicity, however, it’s an element of writing that doesn’t get neglected by the band, either. “Sleepers Become Giants” is a colossal track, inducing my imagination of a giant trudging along the earth with each pound provided by the band throughout the three minutes. It has a very slow and dense heaviness that you could recognize in bands like the aforementioned Humanity’s Last Breath. The identical introductory and exiting melody on the guitar also reminds me a lot of the iconic melody of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. It’s a haunting and dreadful melody that hangs in the air like a betrayed spirit.

Alluvial seem to have the haunting concepts of dread, fear and suffering pretty much optimized. Some instances on this record sounded truly unsettling. One example is the interlude track “Zero”. The jagged gasps that are littered throughout a sonic abyss can be described as spine-chilling, reminding me of that sense of dread I felt when I heard “(515)” by Slipknot for the first time. Even the first half-second of “Sarcoma’’ caused me to blurt out “what the fuck was that?” and go back for a re-listen. I think it’s a dog…? Either way, it caught me well and truly off-guard and I loved it.

The guitar tones in this album are so crisp, really emphasizing the talent on display. Each tremolo pluck is heard, each note vividly executed. The twang of each off-beat note from the guitars in the verses for “Thy Underling” is ‘stank face’-inducing, and the powerful chords ringing out underneath the solo in “Sarcoma” are so clean that they provide a modest and colorful background. These are scattered throughout the album and contribute wonderfully to the atmosphere at the most appropriate of times. What I wasn’t overjoyed about, though, was how little I could hear the contribution of bassist Tim Walker (Entheos) to the album. I was only really aware of his existence through the fact that the mix had an adequate bass undertone running through it, and the beginning of “Sugar Paper” was thin in its instrumental layering, allowing Walker to stand out a bit more. There is no doubt that Walker is talented, and he most certainly does not need to prove himself, but it would have been nicer to hear his presence a bit more throughout “Sarcoma”, especially when he follows some of the highly technical progressions played by Hauch.

At the end of the day, to say that “Sarcoma” is a death metal album, is very right. To say that it is ‘just another death metal album’, however, is very wrong. Alluvial’s latest work is the product of a death metal think tank. Some of the metal scene’s most proficient members have put their heads together and created something truly engaging, even for the more jaded metalheads out there. Muller’s addition as vocalist to the band has undoubtedly propelled the band forward in only the most positive way; Hauch was truly right in waiting for the right vocalist to come along. The album is a devastating yet magnificent explosion of all the colors, shapes and sizes of death metal, and whilst it doesn’t create anything new, per se, it certainly pulls the best parts of multiple styles and morphs them into ten tracks of expertly crafted material.

Released On: May 28th2021
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Genre: Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Kevin Muller / Vocals
  • Wes Hauch / Guitar/Vocals
  • Tim Walker / Bass
  • Matt Paulazzo / Drums

“Sarcoma” Tracklist:

  1. Ulysses
  2. Thy Underling
  3. Sarcoma
  4. 40 Stories
  5. Zero
  6. Exponent
  7. Sleepers Become Giants
  8. The Putrid Sunrise
  9. Sugar Paper
  10. Anodyne

7.8 Great

The sophomore album from Alluvial, “Sarcoma”, is a dense and powerful display of modern death metal. Some of the metal scene’s finest musicians have come together to create some seriously impressive tracks, integrating various musical styles and elements that only show the listener that this band is not to be overlooked. Whilst the album doesn’t break any molds, it certainly cements itself as a formidable offering to death metal that should not go unnoticed.

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 7
  • Production 7
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