Brendan Campbell – Bass,
Jordan Berglund – Vocals,
Luka Govednik – Drums,
David Stepanavicius – Guitars.
2. Sulphur Curtain
3. Phantom Veins Trumpet
5. Upon the Shoulders Of Havayoth
6. A Ceremony Of Sectioning
Where a lot of technical death metal struggles is in both coherence and balance, with many in the genre falling into the trap of making the record as technical as possible at the expense of actual songs. Technicality is a tool; not a song trope, and the latter can lead to music that is simultaneously interesting, yet dull at the same time. Interesting in the sense that the musical gymnastics are impressive; dull because there is little substance beyond that. It may feel wonderful for the musicians concerned to demonstrate their countless years of bedroom practice, but all it really amounts to is that: demonstrations. To paraphrase a famous film quote, these musicians can become “so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”.
So it’s pleasing to come across a band such as ATRÆ BILIS with their debut release, ‘Divinihility’, and their brand of tech death being the diametric opposite of all that waffle. Surprisingly, too, because from the opening frenzied battery of “Gnode”, the impression is that it’s time to strap yourself in for another long slog of brilliant musicianship but uninspired brutality. Yet the little bit of groove that threads its way into the fold pricks the ears up somewhat, but it’s the more melodic bridge in follow up “Sulphur Curtain” that really hammers home the band’s nous. See, melody is often thought of as a dirty word in some circles of this musical world, yet it is what makes something more memorable, and something often overlooked in these parts of the music spectrum.
The same occurs in promo song “Ectopian”, where a slower, more melodic middle juxtaposes its harsher surroundings. A change in atmosphere gives the record room to breathe, which is absolutely no bad thing. Ironically, this particular passage has all the qualities of a suffocating freefall through the cosmos, yet it works terrifically well to bring life to proceedings. But suffocating atmosphere is not the only area where ATRÆ BILIS excel at, as their prowess with speed and groove also adds to the fun of ‘Divinihility’. It’s not all double-bass and showy fretboard-flaying, but rallentandos, gallops and half-times (see the halfway-point of “Upon The Shoulders Of Havayoth” for the latter). Their reliance on dissonance, as well, works perfectly in tandem with those moments of melody, making for an uncomfortable yet satisfying listen.
Another hallmark of most tech death is the absolute machine-like perfection that is the production. Everything has to be heard crystal clear, and the production is as much a part of the whole body of work as the music itself. Yet it can feel really rather sterile, yet ‘Divinihility’ again eschews the trend for something a little different. There is a slight tinge of rawness about it, and a bright, liveliness that adds a sharpness to the record’s aural attack – it certainly pricks the ears up more than the overall sound of its contemporaries!
ATRÆ BILIS deserve some serious praise for a body of work that amalgamates their favourite tropes from death metal without making it an incoherent mess. ‘Divinihility’ may not represent a completely new strain of tech death, but it is a bloody good one to say the least. With actual songs to listen to, that mix groove, brutality and hints of melody throughout, this slab of death metal savagery will live longer in the memory than the rest of the run-of-the-mill stuff that spews out of the factory production line. The record’s title may be a loose portmanteau of “divine” and “nihility”, to mean something along the lines of “god of nothing”, but these Canadians certainly have something in their arsenal.