QUESTION – Reflections of the Void (2020)REVIEW

Thrilling as it might be to muse over what lies beyond death as sentient beings release into incorporeality there can be no answer beyond cold and absolute nothingness, else the σῶμα would serve little more purpose beyond mulch in the cyclical process of material existence. At great risk of resembling early Gnostic thought, Nous has long been the unsatisfactory reality of afterlife where the stain of cultivated intelligence, Socratic forms of critical thinking, and whatever else’d fall under common sense shared by the self-elected lifelong student is all that could possibly stick. The black mirror of today allows human meat even less physical purpose and propagates freshly frightening depths of ailing mindset — Lost in the wretched, ceaseless minutiae of belonging and acceptance all subjects attend daily worship of false worth as the keen intellect of past generations dissolves into atrophied, devolved sentience. Delusion, escapism, fantasy and all manner of ‘God’ and master-fed sickness dies a screaming, fiery death when mind and body become impossible as aether to shape, fluid and loosely pouring as smoke from a burning church on a winter morning. This second full-length from astute and everflowing Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico-based death metal quintet Question stokes and empowers the anātman, merging soulless non-‘self’ to the void described in early Stoic theorem, all inclusive and enlightened beyond established forms. Heady as that’ll seem when mulled over, the reality is yet ‘old school’ death metal shaped freely and in service to the great purpose of the artform: The riff and its thrillingly resonant multiplication.

The rich history of Mexican death metal is yet underappreciated despite frequently satisfying output year over year since the mid-to-late 80’s wherein bands like Transmetal, Witchhunter and Toxodeath brought primitive and brutal extreme thrash similar to widespread output in the United States and Brazil of the era. Though I’m not primarily here to encourage historical exploration, I’ve often seen Question lumped in with (late 90’s-early 2000’s) The Chasm and (early) Cenotaph but this is ultimately shorthand for an admixture of world-spanning influences characteristic of their region — It isn’t specific enough in description of what makes the band’s approach unique and their discography wholly redeeming. The heart of the Question experience has always been rooted in a complex, brutally ‘old school’ sense for melodic development that has long taken influence from the thickly-woven guitar work of Demigod‘s classic debut, the subversive diction of early Immolation, and all manner of late 80’s/early 90’s ‘progressive’ and pure old school death metal. When their first album (‘Doomed Passages‘, 2014) gained underground notoriety quickly I’d first compared it to one of my favorite records, ‘Abject Offerings’ from Mercyless, for the sake of its pulling from what was current death metal in ’91-’92 and reshaping that conglomerate into strong, decisive musical statement. ‘Slumber of Sullen Eyes’ and ‘The Gloomy Reflection of Our Hidden Sorrows’ might be more reasonable sources to point toward but nonetheless it was an unforgettable debut that’d landed high on my best of 2014 list, cementing the group as one to follow and champion since.

Question were influenced by space-faring, cosmic death metal long before many better known bands in the United States had really pulled together anything listenable, always opting on the side of forceful and true ‘old school’ death metal songwriting rather than blurring their sound to meet the atmospheric standards of Morbus Chron or Tribulation nearby. Because they’d kept silently at work until 2017 on a follow-up EP, which might as well have been a full-length by today’s standards, ‘Gnosis Primordial‘ was at once a biggest moment for Question but also a record I’ve long felt didn’t get the notoriety it’d deserved. This’d been the point where unorthodox Carbonized and Voivod-esque rhythms began to creep strongly into the previously subtle classic progressive death metal obscuritas of Question‘s work. It’d felt shockingly modern and meandering as a point of mutation for the band yet that new paradigm was worth making the transition with. For the underground death metal enthusiast it had been hard to see that those were formative years for the band until ‘Reflections of the Void’ struck me with its most ambitious material, a restless and still devoutly ‘old school’ prog-death attack that manifests as a holistically classic thinking man’s death metal experience.

Though I could fill the three year void of development between releases without any strain of the imagination, the initially self-released self-titled EP and subsequent compilation (‘Question‘, 2018) offers the missing link between ‘Gnosis Primordial’ and this sophisticated yet gravel-grinding Question of today. Real change comes from the addition of a second guitarist and bassist to replace original member Hector Sánchez who’d left around 2018 to focus on Denial and other related projects. Considering the amount of new personalities, synchronization, and the time needed for fresh songwriting ‘Reflections of the Void’ comes much sooner than expected and without losing the classic-yet-unorthodox spirit of the band in the process. Whatever friction over the direction of the band caused members to leave, what they’ve realized today hasn’t amounted to any major change in artistic voice but, rather a more varietal experience only a few shades more sophisticated than the prior EP; Although you’ll find limits pushed into the realm of contemporary bands like Execration, Resurgency and Necrovation the soul of this record will still resound with fans of classic Death on a basal level. These are rough guidelines, and one could needle out much closer comparisons if needed, nonetheless as opener “The Process of Dehumanization” kicks into full double-bass roll beyond its intro a lot of well-intentioned comparisons bleed away; This impressive opener is not a fluke or an outlier, Question have leaned towards much more ornate and technically demanding riff and rhythmic patternation. The bounding electrical storm that this song builds up to in its last third had me entirely mystified from the first spin — Losing track of all time and space with one half of my mind recalling my favorite obscure ‘old school’ death metal albums and the other half in awe of the incredible advanced station of the band expressed within this new work. For my own taste this stylistic nirvana between ancient and the present is everything, a step outside of myself into all realms.

“Beyond Illusions of Existence” is even more elaborately carved, continuing on the same mental thread and brutal attack but warping concurrent forms even more, clearly writ for two guitars yet never attempting anything so ambitious that they’ve lost that catchy, knowable flair that I’d still compare to Demigod and Mercyless‘ best moments. Still, I grow self-conscious of my auld references as they’re simply not entirely adequate. “First Fragmentation” is where things become entirely unhinged and move beyond known realms as often as they trade in classicism; A spoken word intro and a main riff ah via ‘Sublime Dementia’-era Loudblast warms the scene before a post-‘Human’ Death influenced progression edges itself into signature forms. On initial listens this track was a drawback as the spoken word was odd and I’d felt the composition was referential but as I came back to the album time and time again it ended up being one of the more memorable points on the full listen. Familiar aspects aside the song offers the first of many shifting sands on the path to the end, this ‘fragmentation’ is life’s passage to death the ecstasy of the flesh torn apart illustrated in bristling melodic movements. Without suggesting any tracks aren’t worthy of mention, it was “A Fate Worse Than Death” that clung to my mind most often in post-listen analysis and reflection where a gigantic groove of a riff kicks things off, emphasizing the extra push given to new bassist César Tarello‘s (Piraña) tone. The dissonant sea-change around the ~3 minute mark is especially effective, a rush of unexpected rhythm that pushes back to the main theme to great effect; One of many examples of Question pushing the rigid bounds of classic death metal without mutilating it into something obscene or foully commercial.

It is inescapable on my part, early 90’s death metal is an obsession nearly as all-consuming as my taste for all things thrash metal. Pushing away from it leads to misery on par with addiction’s withdrawals and/or delirium tremens resultant. So, with this in mind you’ll be able to gauge how fascinating a record like ‘Reflections of the Void’ might be to you, though I doubt anyone well in tune with classic ‘progressive’ death or modern forms will find anything short of stunning here on Question‘s second album. Everything here escapes the feeling of preened-over perfection yet the skill and taste level exceeds the norm and outclasses bigger budget and better known works in recent years. As was the case with Cryptic Shift a few months ago, my recommendation is very high yet it’ll likely creep to peak enthusiasm as I unravel its contents more over time. Also, I’d found no tactful way to fit it in but the impressive and original cover artwork from Lucas Korte/Shoggoth Kinetics deserves a big, shiny vinyl release.

Very high recommendation.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Reflections of the Void
LABEL(S):Chaos Records
RELEASE DATE:July 31st, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [CD, Digital]
GENRES:Death Metal,
Progressive Death Metal

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