OMINOUS RUIN – Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone (2021)REVIEW

The threat of behavioral sink due to the overpopulation of the technical death metal realm hasn’t ever been based in reality if we begin to count the number of musicians operating without specific sub-genre modifiers in hand. An emphasis on mathcore, groove metal/half-thrash and/or outright progressive metal influences doesn’t disqualify a fellowship from said census but we must dispel this enduring myth that brutal tech-death ‘died’ around 2010. If anything the divide between studio only projects and practical touring bands has narrowed since for the sake of supporting the health of the actual niche thanks to shifting tides in consumption edging from compact discs toward digital and now a fairly healthy limited release vinyl movement which appears to grow in demand year over year. Tech-death didn’t necessarily eat itself but an emphasis on robotic feats, engineering tricks, and cold production values certainly left a lot of my peers ready to move on circa ~2007 as the search for “all the riffs” but with a bit of life behind the eyes lead elsewhere. How then, is it possible to hold any certain nostalgia for a point of breaking? When a monument is defaced or a set of ruins begins to crumble beyond its austerity we begin to better recall the value of a certain level of ambition that’d been phased out via shortcuts of efficiency, accessibility and “progress”; It becomes painful to see the face of this ambition marred by dissolving standards of practice. The correct instinct is preservation, archival restoration, and folk history. If I were to suggest I still have nostalgia for late 2000’s death metal it wouldn’t be for the groove metal influences, nor the edgy deathcore mills that gave bored goregrind man-children a fresh sandbox to shit in, but rather the level of athleticism it took to recreate the real shit live and the thrill of death metal shows that were sonically akin to a screaming, blood-wet death by cyborg one moment and a jazz fusion showcase the next. I could ramble on about any number of “good old days”, perfect live sets/bills, (now) classic albums and eras bygone but I’ve only intended some light framing for what seems to be the basal inspiration for San Francisco, California-based technical brutal death metal band Ominous Ruin‘s long in development exploration of “what if” the sub-genre had never faltered within diluting pools of cutting edge heavy music trends or, at least addressed them sparingly. Their debut full-length, ‘Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone‘, addresses this brutally needled genre of tunnel-vision with a decidedly modern set of standards in place yet the listening experience proves itself resonant of generations past.

The collective resume and discography of Ominous Ruin‘s past-and-present company features what I’d consider prime death metal athleticism, you can’t play this music without some measure of serious investment be it time, study, or the maddening attention to detail it takes to compose much less perform. Although the band nearly strike upon their eleventh year of incorporation here today they’d largely been chipping away at their formative years until six years ago when a couple of demos compiled (‘Promo‘, 2015) and a debut EP (‘Exiled‘, 2015) seemed to be the product of their Mark I era ending with a change of drummers. The general character and movement of that EP still informs this first full-length but the compositions are fittingly more accomplished and the need to gear up to higher level of production and rendering is entirely satisfied. It shouldn’t be a shock that key members of Ominous Ruin have some notable ties to early Inanimate Existence while other members (of the current line-up) have ties to lesser known Bay Area tech death bands Leprous Divinity and Enigma. All of this should suggest these are meticulous craftsmen who hedge quite a lot of value within technical feats and a specific lineage of “evolved” brutal death metal sound design. The credit I didn’t necessarily expect in this equation was the session drum performance from Fallujah‘s Andrew Baird, not to suggest he isn’t up to task but that his band has tended towards a popular deathcore style which has shifted towards a unique atmospheric sound in recent years. Baird‘s performances bring a more human yet still inhuman element to Ominous Ruin which I’ve fund suitably dynamic, never grating upon re-entry and yet still indicative of the compressed lineage of past innovators I’d mentioned earlier. The main reason I’d picked this album up and given it a second look was admittedly the incredible Pär Olofsson cover art but I’d stuck around for the association with Inanimate Existence as they remain one of my personal favorite progressive death metal bands; Sure the namedrop alone was enough, though I suppose what Ominous Ruin do follows a slightly different path to a similar feeling, which I wouldn’t immediately suggest is progressive but things do eventually pan out in that direction when the fretless basses begin to fly. ‘Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone’ has more directly in common with a heavily composed bands like Odious Mortem, though the album itself recalls ‘Cryptic Implosion’ less than it does Decrepit Birth‘s ‘Axis Mundi’ or Spawn of Possession‘s ‘Noctambulant’. This should suggest the realm of late 2000’s tech death register, a general avoidance of soggy or “easy” deathcore tropes and infrequent breaks into progressive metal “lightness” for the sake of a nose-to-the-grind, machined out technical death metal style that is inherently percussive.

The two singles we’ve been given in preview of ‘Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone’ are precision hits that also comprise the first eight minutes of the album. A burst out of the gates a la (later) Anata kicks off with an angular riff, one of several charged fragments presented early in each song to carry in mind as said piece develops a number of technical tirades. Both of these songs set a harried pace, frantic technicality, and provide grand preview of the rhythm guitar tone, a nimble 8-string performance that growls throughout “Ritual“. This becomes especially prominent as “Attuned to the Chasm” gives us a bit more of the picture where Ominous Ruin basically make good on their mission statement of “technical progression and slamming brutality, backed by a catastrophic atmospheric dissonance” without reading too much into slamming as a sub-genre specific trait. I believe we get our first hit of fretless bass on “Deception” and for my own taste this was the key song to direct expectations further; There is a bit of an Archspire-esque ambition to the vocals on this song as well as “Simulacra”, each serving to highlight the nonchalant, over the top tech-death standard they’re working with. Though the rap-speed growled vocals and the rasped guest vocals from Jade Ordonez (Arcane Existence) on “Deception” specifically were a lot to take in at first I’d felt like this is where Ominous Ruin begin to hit their stride in showing a great deal of diversity within an overwhelming brutal death metal format, and hey I won’t do a full track-by-track here but “Chrysalis of Flesh” is where I basically commit to landing upon this portal to the decaying self, lyrics that’d depict a protagonist choosing darkness over light and ending up a cursed example for others.

Tormented by consequences and accepting the solidifying self defined by past actions, there is no pleasurable resolve at the end of ‘Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone’ unless you are prone to delight in psychological horror. As the narrative depicts a dissolving self the high-energy hammering of Side A gives way to a more patient but no less brutal second half. “Labyrinthine Torment” is then appropriate as a balladesque apex, fully presenting the progressive death metal side of the band before launching into what has become my favorite song on the record as it recalls the fraught dissonance introduced in pieces of other tracks prior, momentarily engulfing the experience with an anxietous panoramic view to tribulation. I particularly liked the vocals on this piece, no doubt Adam Rosado smokes across the span of this whole album but here the gutturals mix with the guest spot from Julian Ziadarevich (Black Passage) and foam to a major high for my own taste. Though I found the chromed tonality of ‘Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone’ appropriately abrasive the guitar sound remained tightly controlled, rarely (if ever) dipping into bland pit riffing and holding its imposing presence together when the mood turns towards progressive death metal revelry. There were points where I’d prefer a guest guitar solo rather than a guest vocal and some of the narrative vocals can get absurdly wordy at times but these ultimately became insignificant or, appropriately characteristic when reflecting upon the full listen. Ominous Ruin have quickly taken me back in time and then easily slid my dumb-ass forward about ten years beyond expectations, the balance of “classic to some” brutal-technical death metal apices with some modern innovations in progressive metal voicing with updated gear and production techniques leaves me feeling like the ultimate statements in brutal and technical death metal lineage still hold weight in talented folks like these, and they’re piecing it all together with plenty of fire behind the eyes. If I’m making a “hit list” of bands I need to see perform their gig live for the sheer physicality of it, these guys are up there. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone
LABEL(S):Willowtip Records
RELEASE DATE:February 26th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Brutal/Technical Death Metal

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