“In the gloomy half-darkness the three idiots sat babbling. Every incoherent utterance, every random syllable, was analysed, compared, reassembled in the form of visual symbols, transcribed on conventional punchcards, and ejected into various coded slots. All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs, held in one rigid position by metal bands, and bundles of wiring, clamps. Their physical needs were taken care of automatically. They had no spiritual needs. Vegetable-like, they muttered and dozed and existed. Their minds were dull, confused, lost in shadows.” Philip K. Dick, The Minority Report
Prior to the governmental institutionalization of university-bound natural philosophers into nuclear scientific faction the western world viewed the realm of applied science as an often fearsome Pandora’s box, entire shadow worlds within our own that’d potentially be unleashed by mere lens set upon unseen realities. Nuclear bombs didn’t necessarily help, either. Quirky professors and aristocracy-funded savants literate or fortunate enough to take up science fictive writing most often benefitted from this ongoing massive distrust of institutionalized scientists for the sake of a now long-dead age of human thought, one which always looked ahead to the consequences of their excess and feared what might come if mankind’s nature could be changed for the worse by way of technology. The shift was obvious enough within the history of science fiction authorship as we transition mid-20th century, wherein by far the greatest threat imagined became the loss of humanity itself via transhumanism (or, alternately fascism) and this’d only intensified by the time DNA science became accessible and widely taught, although in vague depth, at a primary level. The resultant dystopia our not-so distant relatives feared isn’t hard to imagine here in 2022, though in the case of Colombus, Ohio-based solo death metal project The Wakedead Gathering the inspiration for dystopian science fiction thematic arrives sourced from the imaginative realm of mid-century sci-fi classics rather than pandemia, war, and political distortion today. The fourth full-length from the artist, ‘Parallaxiom‘ posits first the dangerous notion that ones unique genetic code holds potential for expression of societally unacceptable traits, and from that point presents a dystopian society wherein death sentences are quite literally enforced by the state (using an inexact predictive genetic technology) when it is determined by a court of biological disposition that a life may potentially be one of criminality and deviance down the line. The conceptual progressive death metal album that comes of this fiction tells a story of destitution, underground dissent, and retaliation while simultaneously reimagining the momentum of the band’s discography thus far.
Influenced by the emergent (largely conceptual) uprising of atmospheric death metal and aligning in authorship befitting of early 20th century United States science fiction/surreal horror authors (Lovecraft, Stevens, etc.) amidst an irreligious thread, musician Andrew Lampe had risen from nowhere with a clear sense of direction circa 2007. Having developed as a musician within hardcore punk spheres, the practical do-it-yourself ideology of the artist was appreciable from the start having had a clear point of view in terms of art direction and songcraft per the best of his capabilities. It is important to recognize that the late 2000’s were a point in time wherein underground black and death metal representation was experiencing a steady return of independent labels worldwide who’d capitalized upon reissues of 80’s and 90’s death and thrash metal records to bolster visibility, the rise of ‘old school’-minded Incantation-esque death metal at the time meant a deep underground, independent and a bit odd artist like The Wakedead Gathering represented prime potential growth with consideration of their first demo (‘Ars Notoria‘, 2008) which found some small buzz over on MySpace, when that was a thing. The barrier to entry for most folks seeking ‘organic’ and classicist death metal muse at the time was obviously the programmed, or, at least artificial sounding drums on the recording.
I’d discovered The Wakedead Gathering via their debut full-length (‘Tenements of Ephemera‘, 2010) through Dark Descent Records‘ cassette release, it’d been the sort of thing where I was expecting some sort of blackened weirding death metal and ended up with a very readable death metal record, which I’d described as “Eldritch brutal” at the time per the much improved percussive aggression found on the album. The best parts of that record, and perhaps the signature that’d soon develop, were the mid-paced and off-kilter pieces (see: “The Black Foundry”) that’d best communicated the connection between the dark, homebrewed aesthetic of the band and the ominous yet clattering heave of the music itself. It’d been the right stuff for the early upturn of I, Voidhanger whom they’ve aligned with exclusively since, yet the sound design of the band would evolve quickly to catch up with lessons learned in the meantime as we’ll find on the reverbed-out, blown up sound of ‘The Gate and the Key‘ (2013) which’d always felt like a distraction. There we’d find black metal influenced touches loosening their edge alongside a more straight forward vocal performance as Lambe would largely stick to deeper Drawn and Quartered-esque growls, incorporating some blackened squalls into the guitar work here and there otherwise. The big reach into the unknown, the blackened-death aspect of the band would emerge within the pensive oddity that was ‘Fuscus: Strings of the Black Lyre‘ (2016), an inventive and somewhat underappreciated record for the sake of its somewhat messy render and obscured vocal performances.
From that point it’d become clear that The Wakedead Gathering had reached a point of respite with Lambe focusing on various grindcore, death metal, and black metal projects in the interim. More recently we’ve gotten an exploration of occult atmospheric black in Echushkya, a morbid and unhinged black/death bludgeon from Invultation and pure 2000’s death metal slapping in Indespise, all of which extrapolate the possibilities explored over the years in his main solo project and condense those skills into various focused idyll. The question then begins to fester in mind: What then, does The Wakedead Gathering become if its evolutionary realization is dissected into piecemeal parts? Eh, progressive death metal it seems is the natural evolution of the band whom return almost unrecognizable to start on ‘Parallaxiom‘, an science-fictive concept album which offers no certain iteration upon the sound developed on the previous two records, almost scaling back to the original idea of the band but now with a stronger skill set in hand. As such we get a more dynamically realized form of death metal less obsessed with creating an oppressive and era-specific atmospheric value. Nowadays Lambe‘s death metal exaggerations are charging forth with a brutal yet finessed stomp, occasionally creeping with eerie doom, and generally rescinding their blackened affect to the shadows as fiery progressive death riff runs initially dominate the scene set. Needless to say the artist has not suffered from funneling his black metal ideas away from this project, at least for my taste.
From what I’ve gathered and speculated, most of ‘Parallaxiom‘ was built from ideas writ between 2015 and 2018 wherein the recording process finished in late 2018 and the mixing/mastering (handled by Lambe) was finalized in ~2019. I mention this because it counts for something that the major musical shapes of the record were developed during a period of time where modernist faux underground death metal visibility took a dark evolutionary turn, hyper-evolving to the point of repeating the history of mid-90’s death metal’s overwrought destitution and finally resorting to hardcore/groove metal level camp to keep the troops entertained. This hasn’t been reflected in The Wakedead Gathering‘s style notes, there is no angle upon trend or kitsch-core here, and instead we find the tunnel vision of the project’s efforts expanding by their own merits. That isn’t to say they’re as much (or more) of a “riff” band as was the case on ‘Tenements of Ephemera‘ but that the focus of this record is on creating scene and shaping by way of directive, occasionally technical and thrashing progressive death metal guitar work. It isn’t so profoundly portrayed that you’ll feel like ‘Parallaxiom‘ is anything but a death metal record but the flow of the full listen is generally notable.
It won’t do much for the larger case study I’m building here that the second song proper on the album “The High Court of Biological Disposition” does lean into the doomed early Incantation-esque death metal side of things at a certain point but a closer look reveals it is more of a skronking death/doom metal movement (emphasis on the doom metal riff ~2:17 minutes in) rather than ‘caverncore’ exposition. Without the prior context of opener “Recessive Society” this’d land differently as an early album impression, wherein the opening song takes an Vigna-influenced inverted riff detour or two in the midst of an inventive introductory rung. ~1:29 minutes into “Recessive Society” we hit one of the more immediate ear-flicking movements, or, a The Chasm-esque thrashing refrain which develops an almost classical music type of transition into broader strokes before the gloom and squeal of the song picks up (see also: Creepmime, Question). Directly afterwards we’ve got an excellent ‘Here in After‘ attuned riff narrating the turmoil and injustice of “Sentenced at Birth” but this turns out to be a bigger picture example of Lambe leaning into classic USDM traits not for the sake of sub-genre exercises and iteration but instead to serve the gravitas of the concept by way of pensive, volatile grooves; It is a brutal dystopian future being depicted and The Wakedead Gathering‘s aggressive exposition of these deadly totalitarian environs is impressive, or, at least appropriately invoked when we consider the greater arc of the story told as the record pushes on.
Perhaps more importantly, we’ve not at all established any clear line of likeness here, only pieces of certain songs which showcase Lambe‘s broad spectrum of death metal fandom and the ability to communicate that through extended runs of well-arranged, run-on pieces. The effect isn’t necessarily an expected fourth record from The Wakedead Gathering but a damned good one nonetheless. The middle of the album is the true showcase of his skills in translation, serving as the major point of entertainment value found on the full listen. The rush provided by the running order from “Lab 333” through “Adaptive Mutation” or nearby constitutes the main event for my own taste, wherein the focus is almost entirely upon the elaborate admixtures of riff and rhythm swinging along at readable speed and cadence; What’d repeatedly caught my ear to start on the full listen was a handful of prominent death-thrashing movements on a few songs (“Nervous System”, “Sequence 13”, etc.) which’d kept the energy of the full listen up and moved things away from the self-same realm of “guy with a drum machine” death metal songwriting that the project has fallen into before. Otherwise The Wakedead Gathering are at thier best when generating contrast between elemental riff features, marrying the brutal and the beauteous in ways which serve the creeping, blasting, ripping, and doomed character embodied — All of it arriving in service of the moment.
Not all of the album arrives upon entirely clear statement. In fact much of ‘Parallaxiom‘ reads as riff salad, or at least myriad ideas arranged hastily until you’ve situated yourself with the record in concerted immerse and given the larger arc of the guitar work some time to compress in mind and expand in meaning. This isn’t such an issue for me as I’d greatly appreciated that the patient-yet-brutal death metal experience in hand told a story at all, illustrating events not only through their lyrics but within the temperament and scope of performances. It is an unexpected yet entirely positive change for the band and an inspired record on all counts including fine artistic curation, sci-fi concept, sound design and a greater doubling down on the riff-crammed death metal side of the project. A high recommendation.
|ARTIST:||THE WAKEDEAD GATHERING|
|LABEL(S):||I, Voidhanger Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||July 15th, 2022|
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