UNIVERSALLY ESTRANGED – Reared Up in Spectral Predation (2021)REVIEW

Perhaps it started as a whisper in some white wilderness; The sick spite of a broken body, cradled in cold, crying futility unto a futile wind: Don’t you know that God is dying?” Colin Kapp, Patterns of Chaos

Reared Up in Spectral Predation‘ is a cosmic horror novella the listener will ultimately have to write themselves into as the unknown, unfathomable and unapologetically vexing terrors presented by Houston, Texas-area solo death metal musician Universally Estranged sets his station safe and astray as the whirling astral projector, neither beast or protagonist. Thee wizard-fingered conductor builds this half hour set of technical yet approachable nether-weirding via the vacuum embalmed and cold-preserved palate of noveau atmospheric and science fiction themed death metal — Less than a movement today and more a hop-headed thematic vaguely related to the hidden traditions of mid-90’s technical and progressive death metal’s deep underground outliers. In approach of this new phenomenon, and isolation-bound artistry, we have only detritus and gore available to the senses and, as such, I cannot stress the importance of treading lightly through each crime scene presented, picking diligently through the obviate and deducing carefully what may very well amplify into indescribable sub-genre re-codifying horrors.

We step onto this portal knowing there is no way back. I’ve no idea who Universally Estranged is other than one human being alongside various instruments and computer technology. So far I’ve confirmed* via social media that he isn’t a sentient AI [verified April 20th, 2021 using the honor system] alongside deducing his involvement in some instrumental rock in the 2000’s and guesting in an lo-fi indie rock project mid-decade. Likewise I can only loosely deduce what events ‘Reared Up in Spectral Predation’ depicts as its core conceptual undertaking based off of song titles, the brutal-yet-distant roars & unintelligibly gasped narrative within. What I do know in taking the leap of trusting my senses and typically reliable memory is that this project was perhaps generally the major focus of the musician during an extended period of quarantine due to the still ongoing worldwide pandemia. The general sense is that the core series of events follows a three act sequence beginning as a nameless destroyer identifies its next exploit, a terrifying biological scourge feeds planet-scouring psychic wars which damage both sides, and finally some manner of obliteration finishes the tale with the listeners jaw slapped open. Terrifying, pulped-up and novel worthy cover imagery (via Lucas Korte) help to sell this vision alongside a bit of the old school (Demilich-adjacent movement), the ‘new old’ school (see: Cadaveric Fumes, ’16 Blood Incantation), and some future-seeking behavior beyond heavily regulated death metal traditions which I’d compare to the Cosmic Putrefaction for the sake of my own approximate tangent.

Exactly how much detail can you absorb within the span of ~32 minutes? Because I can tell you no amount of ear-training and unrepentant genre exploration makes it “easy” to transition between lush chill-hop intro vibes, cinematic spacewave interludes and violently angular riff-obsessed death metal focused on irregular tempo changes. In the late 90’s we surely had groups like Wicked Innocence, Dripping and Caducity smoothing certain narrative elements over, be they odd spoken word tracks or very brief sounds lifted from the score of Aliens yet we wouldn’t hear this kind of over the top but not centrally focused use of textural juxtaposition to frame a cosmic horror setting. The 2000’s certainly introduced brazen goregrind and brutal death combos but these are hardly illustrative of the metal guitar component here which seems to aim for cleanliness, precision, and the lumbering mood of mid-90’s death metal beyond the impossibly darting framework of ‘Nespithe’. The first victim of this sonic bewilderment is this mentally conglomerated pairing of “Despoiling Souls Of Flesh Across The Galaxy” and “The Visitor” as the duo lays sandwiched between an introduction and interlude which both prove characteristic and unforgettably placed early in the album’s presentation. That isn’t to say the blasting, ever-twisting and righteously phrased semi-technical death metal song(s) within are outshined but, almost too much of a surrealistic and damning event set in between these celestial synth spires. I cannot count the number of times I’d have to wheel back to the start of the album after realizing half of it had passed while I’d missed or been unable to recount so much of the ornate detail within. This isn’t a major issue, I mean the third Tomb Mold album had a similar effect to start while utilizing some unexpected interludes as well. What counts at this point is that I know for sure I’m listening to a bunch of solid riffs and a sci-fi synth accoutrement which is notable beyond the norm for this sphere of underground extreme metal.

“A Thing, Oozing In” is perhaps the first song to feel like an instrumental piece that’d been retrofitted for a vocal pattern which feels less than ancillary. Some of the verses do become forceful but if there is a growing pain to address here within the fine craftsmanship of this album thus far it is the need for substantial vocals that’ll be harder for the sharp guitar work to overwhelm. I won’t do a full track-by-track here but I have to point out what a stunning showcase for the unique voice of the project “Sentient Meatsack” is, not only for the ragged explosion into the first set of guitar riffs but for the atmosphere these songs are all able to present with unsettling consistency. A somewhat rare feat within the interruption heavy cadre of technical death metal. Although we must step over one of the most representative tracks on the album to get there, the main event for my own taste is the apex predator statement within “Internecine Psychic Bloodletting” wherein whatever pedigree old or new that inspires Universally Estranged comes to a thrashing death race. Here’s the thing, at this point each piece begins and ends with purpose but all of it still naturally bleeds the same purple blood together, creating an intense mass of instrumental cuts and spirited sci-fi sonic assemblage that isn’t a hundred percent killer but holds together beautifully just as the ideas, or inspiring placement of technique, starts to wane on the title track. The thread of kind of death-thrashing Morbid Angel-esque reveals throughout this last third of the album is satisfying but not until “Blistered Under the Blue Illusion” gets its last word in with its hardcorish thrashing stomps and the Hard Mode extension of the sea change brought via “Internecine Psychic Bloodletting” still blazing. I was still unsure about this album until I could listen to the full hypnosis of its 32 minutes and take it all in stride, the pros ultimately clobbering a few small cons.

We’ve landed in the midst of an outsider creating an appreciably detailed and gloriously themed work with intensely well chosen visual and audio design. That does not mean ‘Reared Up in Spectral Predation’ is a modern classic or a flawless item but rather an immaculate conception that leaves some easily honed rough edges to improve upon. As with ‘At The Threshold of the Greatest Chasm’ the vocals and their cadence needs some considerable attention to really set this otherwise savage set of guitar-centric instrumentals off even more than they’ve managed on their own; The cacophony needs a most powerful, distinct voice to terrify us plebs with. The guitar arrangements themselves are self-invaginating and inventive but do not always narrate with purpose, finding pathways towards stylistic indication rather than voicing an event that can be visualized or mused. We can excuse the sole proprietor for not having perfected all ten-thousand sixteenth six-toothed flesh absconding details of this mountain of mad-work but anyone capable of something this stunningly writ, achieved, and curated is likewise capable of iterating whilst expanding the central voice of pure death metal within this realm, at least one or two traditionally structured pieces could land a band with such a distinct sound in a class of their own design. So, of course a very high recommendation for the level of ambition and accomplishment here yet, I insist upon some room to grow beyond this immense debut statement. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (87/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Reared Up in Spectral Predation
LABEL(S):Blood Harvest Records
RELEASE DATE:April 30th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Atmospheric Technical Death Metal

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