NEAR DEATH CONDITION – Ascent From the Mundane (2022)REVIEW

Focused intently upon determinant applications of Jung’s concepts of the personal unconscious and the dualism inherent to the shadow psyche, this fourth full-length album from southwestern Switzerland-borne death metal trio Near Death Condition presents eldest adage of contrasting physical-spiritual shards of self and experience wherein acknowledged personal darkness not only provides crucial and necessary pairing to light but, also balances it. One may never overtake the other without catastrophic end result, an illness of imbalance beyond the natural verves of entropy. ‘Ascent From the Mundane‘ manifests in glorious confluence with its proposed theme, an inherently conflicted beast which manages to become well-rounded by way of realizing its own measures of darkest chaotic angularity, solar-beaming eerie, and the self-examination resultant of full expression of each. It is not only the finest work to date from an massively underrated two decade strong death metal project’s keen ideation but an experience which palpably steels the mind when engaged for both its finer minutiae and grooviest, broadest strokes.

Officially formed in 2001 and readied with a strong independently released debut album (‘Delusional Perception of Reality‘, 2004) just a few years later, Near Death Condition‘s earliest buzz crept across the world as a strong example of what horizons had opened during that era’s boon of technology-boosted brutal death metal accessibility. Though their use of programmed drums on that debut wasn’t a sin in context with the times it’d otherwise detracted from conversations on the still ‘old school’ attack of their compositions, which were not far removed from the appropriate juggernauts peaking at the time, such as Deeds of Flesh and Nile. I’d first heard of the band around 2010/2011 when Unique Leader announced they’d be releasing the Hertz Recording Studios manifested ‘The Disembodied – In Spiritual Spheres‘ in 2011 — an album which I’d considered one of the best of that year and a major point of nostalgia driving me toward their work today. From that point we can consider the much quicker turnaround for their third full-length (‘Evolving Towards Extinction‘, 2014) due to it being more-or-less a companion to the thread of their second album, once again engineered by the Wiesławski brothers at Hertz and exploring deeper the long evolving threads beyond key mid-to-late 90’s works from Morbid Angel and Immolation. The Mark I era of the band arguably completed its course in more than one or two stages but we can consider the first ten years beyond their debut a sublime realization of an idea which later expanded into even more personal distinction.

Although original vocalist and general cohort Stéphane appears to have left Near Death Condition in 2018 the band hasn’t lost main songwriter/guitarist Patrick Bonvin‘s characteristic evolutionary touch upon the high standards of late 90’s and early 2000’s death metal on the traditional spectrum, leaning into modern brutal and technical voicing to push those limits — In the nearly eight year space between releases we find an appropriate amount of change in tow. Key additions to this latest record include impressive bass performances from Construct of Lethe mastermind Tony Petrocelly and some additional sea-change for their sound via the fearless range of new vocalist Magus (Calcined, Serpens Luminis). Likewise Bonvin‘s already apparent nods to the range of guitar tones and techniques influenced by Trey Azagthoth via Morbid Angel‘s ‘Domination‘ through ‘Heretic‘ streak now includes even bigger molten lead guitar pyrotechnics, clambering grooves, and some dissonant rhythm work which moves with a different, less anxietous sense of progression. If you’ll recall my enthusiasm for Construct of Lethe‘s release of ‘Exiler‘ back in 2018 part of it was that it’d seemed Petrocelly and Bonvin share some specific tendencies and tastes that gel beautifully, and this cohesion of sensibilities translates again here within completely different construct. Likewise, the addition of perhaps one of my favorite drummers of the last decade Kévin Paradis similarly connects to ‘Exiler‘, which he’d also done session work for. The vibe might be new but the machine is burning at a consistent, familiar temperature if that makes sense.

Per my own interpretation, the general theme of ‘Ascent From the Mundane‘ lines up by way of prose which appears as reactive to the process of developing spirituality which is mindful in its acknowledgement of both negative and positive forces, seeking the well-rounded ‘self’ rather than the illusion of tepid balanced sameness. This ultimately acknowledges the repressed notion of separation between physical and mental processes via the more Gnosticism influenced aspects of Carl Jung‘s most key archetypical teaching tools, a very complex web of “Its all in your head, choose your own admixture, step beyond ‘the cave’ and generate personal philosophy” lessons. Now, don’t take this as a suggestion that Near Death Condition are giving out free lectures on a more complete spiritual awakening but rather conveying personal realization in inspired ways, and this is best summed as “There can be no appreciable light without the contrast of darkness” that these ideas are structurally bound to perception and the core messaging is actually meant as inspirational in a rationalist sense, that the darkest of times only appear as such so that you’ll eventually see and appreciate an equal and opposing force in action. Why is this profound? Perhaps largely because of the way the artist finds greater personal freedom to experiment and express with various emotional timbre and tirade thanks to the glow of this refined spiritual realization. With enlightenment achieved through one’s own introspection comes the –riffs– and maaan, ‘Ascent From the Mundane‘ has ’em.

The first few moments of opener “Witnessing the Martyr” stomps a dual-junction pressure plate in mind as Near Death Condition kick into vortex with a mid-paced grinder ready to present the thick of their greater torment. This lands somewhere between the stomp and ringing-out of the slower pieces on ‘Gomorrah’s Season Ends‘ as filtered through the heaving fleshy pyre of ‘Harnessing Ruin‘ a crossing of tumult and force which’d caught my ear beyond preset notions. That isn’t to imply deathcore rhythms but rather the lunging nigh mid-album Gorguts-ian level of crunch rolled into as the album begins. It reads as urgent, pained and brilliantly aggressive thanks to Magus‘ inspired tirades throughout the piece. Of course a huge component of this album is its ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh‘-adjacent lead guitar effects and their fluid set additions to any spare crack in the wall, this starts as a simple perk of the ear on that first song and becomes a burning skull-void on “Nothing From Naught“. Beyond these surface level comparisons the major rhythmic map of these opening pieces is inspired beyond obvious references and this lies in tangential riff-voicing which expresses far greater subtlety, such as frequent semitone shifts in progressions, which add up to an incredible sense of grandeur and building momentum as the full listen rolls on with “Wisdom of Meaninglessness”; This is where Side A defines itself as the renewed voice of Near Death Condition, taking on new elements of cadence and amping some of their technical expression while also directly speaking to what I’d consider an hyper-evolved ‘old school’ death metal attuned ear.

We haven’t turned a corner with lead single “The Bridal Chamber” but reached the crucial apex of conflict within theme and find this song speaking to the centrifugal ideal which ‘Ascent From the Mundane‘ intends. Easing into ethereal breaks in stages of release this is the technical/brutal side of Near Death Condition riding the edge of the eye of the storm, presenting in strong waves without the cold anxiety of earliest releases. In fact this point of transmutation of “ignorance into wisdom” is where the album as a whole begins to warmly ascend, leading into my personal favorite grip of pieces in the second half. “Astral Journey”, much like “The Bridal Chamber”, should feel entirely relevant to pieces on ‘The Disembodied – In Spiritual Spheres‘ if they were to have leaned into more atmospheric extremes rather than raising the stakes in terms of brutality. It’d be the song I’d use to convince folks to give this band/album a try if they’d loved the vibe of Afterbirth‘s latest and also owned a copy of ‘Domination‘ on vinyl. The great point of release and the song to most often catch my ear and give pause for concerted listening each and every listen was the 8+ minute scourging of “Ascent From the Mundane”, a title track which fittingly represents the album its title shares in broadest strokes. Rather than provide a shining empyreal exit the double-bass plow and droning circular progression modulated throughout speak to a glowing new unknown, or, at the very least a decidedly surreal and vacuous exodus from the major thread of the record before a couple of sentimental 1-2 minute outros play. This’ll read a bit strange on sight but the space between conclusion and reignition of the start of the album makes great sense on loop.

Of course I haven’t bothered to rattle on so endlessly because I wasn’t impressed — we’ve gotten a revived and purpose-driven vision of Near Death Condition in this fourth full-length and I’ve found it to be one of the most impressive death metal albums of the year thus far. Easy to pick up and hard to put down is my own clichéd response to the listening experience as I’d found myself completely distracted by ‘Ascent From the Mundane‘ from the moment I’d picked it up and I’ve still not tired of its brutal rhythmic plunge and maniac vocal performances after a few dozen spins. Just as their last two albums have stood the test of time thanks to subtle details and a meaningful fission of old and decidedly new death metal ideals so will this one survive in mind free of desperate gimmickry. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (88/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Ascent From the Mundane
LABEL(S):Unique Leader Records
RELEASE DATE:February 11th, 2022

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