CATHEXIS – Untethered Abyss (2021)REVIEW

A simulacrum entranced by self-dispossession — Austin, Texas-based technical death metal quintet Cathexis spent their first four years as a band chopping away at average results and a dry, vision-lite aesthetic. Call it putting in their dues or, finding their own golden ratio, they were clearly skilled musicians with a hyper-focused ear toward the tech-death boon of the early post-millennium. After two decent full-length sized recordings (both released in 2013) it’d been time for a troupe meeting, a reconfiguration of standards, and a six year process of rebirth. This third album from the band, ‘Untethered Abyss‘, isn’t exactly the product one would expect after such an extensive span of time if solely considering its ~32 minute length and the clangorous tunnel vision it produces but, we now undeniably hear and see a professional technical death metal band whom have put in the sweat and time enough to consider every single detail and angle available to their output. From render/sound design to the album artwork, the fluidity of all motion and the hand-wringing technical groove of the music itself Cathexis aim for modern, serious, and professional craft here and in this sense, succeed.

There are two roads ahead, each leads to the present day: We can look back upon this band’s first two full-lengths, one fairly short and self-released (‘Shades of Apocalypse‘, 2013) and the second (‘Pillar of Waste‘, 2013) more technically accomplished and recognizable as a very moderate precursor to ‘Untethered Abyss’. The contextual purpose of these albums is limited since the band aren’t generally acknowledging their previous albums post-reinvention, their style has notably changed, and I’m sure there are reasons such as different songwriting conditions etc. This leaves us with ‘Demo‘ (2017) as the main starting point for the reinvention of Cathexis wherein I hear a bit of earlier Psycroptic and an entirely different rhythm section delivering a brutal-technical death metal performance. What we can recognize from theses sessions is the freshened riffcraft shared between the two guitarists, whom have some very clear interest in the lineage of work beyond Gorguts‘ ‘Obscura’, be it shades of Ulcerate or Sunless. There is a similarly lumbering n’ snapping percussive gait to the guitar work here best felt within the opening of “Harrowing Manifestation”, which also appears on the full-length in refined form. Here lies the trouble in analysis of such a simply lain, direct and brief full-length listen, there is no “extra” or obviate level of conversation to apply to it. No major storyline or theme, nor is there anything so richly divergent guiding the way that warrants ‘Untethered Abyss’ a good page long ramble-fest. It is “just” a solid album, and something especially primed for folks attuned to tech-death rhythmic movement. Let ’em get their punches in before deciding how well it all sticks.

Strong dynamic presence, perfectly balanced drum levels without any compressed clobber, clangorous ‘From Wisdom to Hate‘ guitar tone, popping and growling bass performances, and the result is surely effective but, I’d highly doubt wrangling these elements into form was simply achieved. This is a technical death metal album with an emphasis on moderate dissonance and groove so the balancing act in question goes beyond sound design, rolling mid-to-fast paced ‘inward moving’ pieces out via consistent and perhaps too-focused slices of the rhythm guitar trait and technique. Almost all interest for the listener will depend upon a love for elastic, grinding and grooving rhythm guitar which varies between feats of sly finesse and fairly straightforward groove and scree complexity. It is more of a hybrid language than their own full-bodied voice that directs this motion and for anyone with the classics still fresh in mind, it might seem tamed or too subtle due to the polish afforded every aspect of the music herein. “Red Hook” is an example of this all working beautifully and leaving a result that should recall Sickening Horror‘s ‘Overflow’ for its rhythmic interest and the “contained” nature of the song itself.

Flow, meaning, movement — This is where Cathexis find themselves slowly worming into my grey matter, there is a jagged narrative thread within these compositions though they are not ‘catchy’ or all that memorable beyond springing back and forth between bigger movements. The fluidity of forms and sensation of movement isn’t thrilling, not as ruthlessly punched-out as groups like Baring Teeth or Bufihimat, but there is an intimacy to the full listen that reaches for the listener in conversation rather than bullhorn; Though these ‘conversationally’ presented rhythms aren’t as avant-garde as the late 90’s Gorguts archetype in mind, they do eventually fashion a braille-like language of texture that reads with similar efficacy. A song like “Library of Babel” can be enjoyed as a quick grab from the whole of the record but it works best in the greater progression of the listen. The missing element that might’ve tied this together is probably dismissible as cursory but some additional atmospheric layer or mind-yanking distraction might’ve driven the experience deeper in mind by interrupting the hyper-focus of such a ‘guitar’ album. Likewise there isn’t a great deal of lead guitar to break up the dual rhythm guitar gymnastics which Cathexis revel within across the span of this record, there is a valuable trade-off there but I’m not sure it takes me to such an irretrievable headspace within thirty minutes.

‘Untethered Abyss’ certainly gets everything right on this reintroduction especially if we consider the warping groove of the rhythm guitar layers as the central focus of the experience. What it lacks is profundity or, impact of statement when viewed as a bigger picture experience and what I mean by this is that I look at this album after a good thirty wheels through its impressively finessed tech-death wiles and appreciate the taste level and content without entirely grasping the ‘point’ or depiction of Cathexis‘ vision; I’ve learned this incredible rhythmic language in the scope of this record, yet it strikes me as a steadily ranting stream rather than an emphatic statement. That said, I don’t think anyone would walk away from ‘Untethered Abyss’ feeling it lacked skill or inspired movement and most fans of any previously mentioned band will find hours of righteous listening within just as I have. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Untethered Abyss
LABEL(S):Willowtip Records
RELEASE DATE:June 25th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Technical Death Metal

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