Austrian tech-death merchants Psycroptic have been pumping out high-octane, no holes barred collisions of extreme technicality and unrelenting death metal for two decades in what can only be described as an indefatigable quest to destroy eardrums and neck muscles across the extreme metal sphere. Their latest effort, “Divine Council” is no exception, and carries on their impeccable record of delivering quality albums that don’t compromise in their viciousness.
Some bands like to slowly ease their listeners in with a soft opening that develops into a more accurate representation of their sound, others like to go for a whimsical intro track that lays bare the thematic bent of the album, but Psycroptic absolutely refutes that in “Rend Asunder,” which opens with spectacularly powerful blast beats, noisy guitar feedback and wounded animal style vocal growls. There’s no nonsense here, it’s just straight to the point aggression with no hand-holding, no meaningless preamble. Psycroptic must be a band after my own heart by taking such a head-on approach and it’s refreshing to see a tech-death band not afraid to really show their death metal credentials with pride. This isn’t to say of course that there is any of the gorgeously well implemented “technical” elements either, with run along riffs that twist and contort in unpredictable ways delivered with impeccable precision featuring prominently within the majority of “Rend Asunder’s” just under four-minute run time.
This excellently well-judged combination continues into the somewhat thrashier “A Fool’s Errand” which is perhaps one of the best displays of guitar work I have heard for a long time, the way that these immensely complex riffs chain together perfect is actually astounding, and this is accentuated by the perfectly mixed percussion that sits high in the mix and is compellingly loud, frenetic and frankly sounds like a cracked out gorilla with a mallet going “ape” on a drum kit. This is a great song, it’s not too long, sounds distinctive, has phenomenal musicianship and most of all is brimming with energy and passion.
With such a fantastic opening two songs, it’s abundantly clear why Psycroptic enjoy the reputation that they do. There’s this ineffable air of quality that represents itself in this all-pervasive sense of completeness, the production, the musicianship, the compositional elements, they just all feel so tightly connected to one another. It’s that rare step above and beyond what you normally get in the overwhelming majority of contemporary music. The first two tracks are without any perceptible fault at all to this listeners ears.
Continuing on the harsh cacophony of brutal noise and intricacy is the third track of “Divine Council,” “This Shadowed World,” which packs a doomy chorus and thrash inspired build ups and bridges that play off of one another pleasingly, with an amusing juxtaposition between the two that amplifies the strategically implemented chaos of Psycroptic’s general sound. Considering that “This Shadowed World’s” runtime is only a fraction over three measly minutes, the song has a rather epic feel, with ebbs and flows that shift and change throughout the song that seem to make the song feel far longer than it actually is. It’s quite incredulous just how much the track distorts time, but that’s often the sign of a band that are making the most out of every second of music that they create.
Whilst the first three tracks of “Divine Council” no doubt create a hard act to follow, “Enslavement” by and large manages to do itself justice in the face of them, with a slightly slower and more measured initial approach that by now expectedly crashes into life in a hailstorm of riffage and that aforementioned aggressive percussion. There’s a point where the speed and intensity kick up dramatically and the guitar takes on a higher register and things begin to sound almost like black metal, which is a nice bit of sonic variety and an unexpected twist that keeps things fresh and prevents things from becoming a little too predictable. No doubt this is testament to Psycroptic’s will to genre bend to their hearts content in order to achieve the sound that they aspire to, a rare feat for a band as old and as entrenched as they are. Psycroptic‘s “Enslavement” ironically enough, represents the bands point blank unwillingness to be typecast into a single style or sound, and additionally serves to prove that even after eight studio albums that they are continuing to experiment and improvise with their new music.
This experimentation is clear however throughout the entirety of this album to varying degrees. There’re the groovy and speedy thrash sections, there’s some death-doom harshness in the stormier, slower segments, there’s abundant elements of technicality that border frequently upon the progressive. It’s absolutely true that “Divine Council” is a tech-death album at its roots, but to ignore the wonderfully colorful leaves that sprout off of its many branching styles would be to rob yourself of a deeper layer of enjoyment of an already excellent album.
Track number five, “Ashes of Our Empire” is a somewhat more standard affair, if anything on “Divine Council” could be considered to be so. It’s a rough and ready track full of bombast and adrenaline that ultimately sounds like the musical embodiment of a cage fight. This in spite of the slightly messy chorus with a tacked-on choir which may make sense thematically but perhaps isn’t the most well executed or implemented element on the album. I do appreciate the attempt to splice in a slightly more melodic segment than normal within the context of the previous tracks, but it ultimately doesn’t really gel with general sound that comes before it and is one of the few examples on the album of a poorly handled attempt at pulling in a different approach. This being said, “Ashes of Our Empire” is still a pretty damn good song, even if it falls a bit short of the extraordinarily high standards set by the four songs previous.
Expanding on the melodic elements introduced in “Ashes of Our Empire,” album midpoint and longest track on the album “The Prophet’s Council” intriguingly implements a expansive melodic overture to a more restrained yet still harsh composition that is deeply soaked with Eastern style riffs and sensibilities, which culminate in a mysterious and ominous journey into the core thematic bent of the album, which focuses largely on faith and religion with a somewhat whimsical air lent to these topics. The implementation of the melodic elements is still imperfect, but it does feel like it was given a bit more time here to evolve into a harsher sound, and to develop in a more natural way, and “Ashes of Our Empire” does benefit from this considerably. It’s one of the more intellectually stimulating pieces on the album, but perhaps still falls a little short of the sheer entertainment factor of the earlier songs.
It’s these occasional minor blips in quality along with good but somewhat standard fare vocals that rob the album of being perfect, it’s an awful shame to say, because as a prospect for enjoyment, you can hardly go wrong with “Divine Council” but when approaching the album in an analytical and blunt manner, you have to call out the imperfections no matter how small as a matter of not just personal integrity, but also so as to provide feedback to the band so that they themselves can discuss if there is something they want to change going forward. It almost feels like cardinal sacrilege to offer such criticisms on a truly excellent album, but the problems are prominent enough to merit some comment.
Progressing on into the seventh song of the album, “Awakening” we’re met with what is perhaps the most progressive influenced song of the album, with strong Sleep Token and Persefone vibes pervading the composition, though not crowding out the distinctive sound of Psycroptic themselves. Abrupt tempo and sonic changes adorn the entirety of “Awakenings” play time, with a restrained brutality being the undercurrent that provides a very necessary coherency to the otherwise rapid and quite shocking changes present.
The eighth and penultimate entry onto the album, “A Fragile Existence” brings back some of “Divine Council’s” early brutality and pace, and it’s every bit as endearing as it was back then as well. It feels right that the record returns to its more brash original sound before it comes to an end, beginning the process of tying the album together before it comes to an end. It would’ve been in-cohesive and structurally inconclusive to have started the album off in such a raw fashion, but then be quite melodic from the middle through to the end of the album, it would’ve felt as if all the tension built early on so skillfully would’ve been wasted on one giant anti-climax, but “A Fragile Existence” strongly binds the album into a spellbindingly cogent whole, giving meaning and context to an otherwise somewhat perplexing middle section of the album.
With one track left to run, you really feel as if you’ve been on a journey in “Divine Council,” that you have born witness to a kaleidoscopic collision of approaches and influences that combine to be greater than the sum of their already high quality parts.
Concluding the album is “Exitus” which finishes the work that “A Fragile Existence” began in returning the album full circle to it’s raw and stormy roots, things get really noisy towards the middle of the song, with chaos and distortion reigning supreme over the track, enveloping you in a pool of thick as tar sonic abrasiveness that perhaps is the harshest moment of the album yet, “Exitus” shows no signs of backing down and cooling off until the last 40 or so seconds of runtime, and even when it does, it fades out into an ominous fog, which tastefully concludes the album, whilst maintaining a slightly ominous cliffhanger that ensures that the last 40 minutes of music doesn’t simply become irrelevant the second it stops.
Psycroptic have worked hard to maintain their illustrious reputation amongst critics and fans and “Divine Council” in no way lets them down in this pursuit. Not just interesting, but enthralling, not just rough, but explosive, no doubt this album will be making death metal fan’s AOTY lists in abundance.
Order “Divine Council” at this location
Released By: Prosthetic Records
Release Date: August 5th 2022
Genre(s): Technical Death Metal |Brutal Death Metal |Progressive Metal
- David Haley / Drums
- Joe Haley / Guitars
- Jason Peppiatt / Vocals
- Todd Stern / Bass
“Divine Council” Track-listing:
- Rend Asunder
- A Fool’s Errand
- This Shadowed World
- Ashes of Our Empire
- The Prophet’s Council
- A Fragile Existence
An immensely satisfying ode to everything right with tech-death metal, Psycroptic give a masterclass in how to meld influences together with direction and intellect, even if “Divine Council” is at its best when it is at its rawest