PSYCROPTIC – Divine Council (2022)REVIEW

The lamentations of the unwilling non-participant godhead, the suicidal immortal unfalteringly persists in mythos and religious fictions alike as parable meant to assuage the unpleasantness of the inevitable existential crises of the thinking kind, a reminder to those prone to the scathing throes of self-examination that it could be worse, or no different for the ‘Gods’. Death might be indeterminable in nature yet the bored, tragedian doldrums of immortality offers an easily parsed unpleasantness for those wrestling with the fester of every day life. There may very well be some manner of dread entombed divinity in mind as the thematic subject of this eighth full-length release from Tasmanian technical death metal band Psycroptic presents an immortal’s deathwish as if it were not only the willful resignation of a ‘God’ but a justifiable planetary acceptance of apocalyptic tides. ‘Divine Council‘ represents the Australian quartet’s second, deeper still step into a recently modernized and partially reconfigured sound as these tech-death dinosaurs connect their ancient ‘ahead of its time’ sensibilities of yore with the accessible technical death/groove metal of today.

By fluke or carefully fashioned fusion Psycroptic were quickly considered notable, exceptional from their first release (‘Isle of Disenchantment‘, 2001) for the sake of it appealing to two distant corners of the modern death metal crowd of the era. Simultaneously picking up on abstracted melodic death metal influences via popular melodic metalcore bands at the time while also deploying a hot shit hit of brutal death metal meant the fused-yet-combative fanbase for their early sound picked up quick and loud. That debut had been a notably technical yet harried record with a solid snare ping and varied vocals which’d project the perfect foil for the unique rhythmic notions of guitarist Joe Haley (Ruins) at the time, providing a solid platform for their breakthrough follow-up. I’d enjoyed that first record at the time but a few other records (‘Mark of the Legion‘ and ‘A Sun That Never Sets‘, mostly) had taken over my listening habits in full most of that year. It wasn’t until Psycroptic‘s second full-length (‘The Scepter of the Ancients‘, 2003) released that I’d given them a serious once over and though I wasn’t as impressed with the vocal performances as others, of course that second record was uniquely erratic, intense, and technical in a non-standardized sort of way. The unique voice of the band developed on their Mark I line-up offers some unfiltered, truly extreme and personality rich work which offers precedence enough for their enduring fandom.

It’d be alien and somewhat taxing to pick through Psycroptic‘s next several records on my part because I didn’t follow the band through their ongoing state of frequent transformation beyond their third major release, which’d found the band delivering a solid if not standard tech-death record for Willowtip (‘Symbols of Failure‘, 2006) during a period of stagnation and somewhat ugly commercial music coming out of tech-death. It’d been the last record that caught the underground thumbs up before the band tucked into the shifty-eyed groove metal influenced landscape for a handful of years a la Decapitated. The major label leaps of several tech-death bands had landed entirely too tame and tired for my taste in the late 2000’s so, I didn’t stick around for it, though it seems that side of the band came to a head in the Psycroptic realm on their self-titled fourth full-length (‘Psycroptic‘, 2015). If there is anything to gain from a roll back through the history of Psycroptic‘s work to date it requires some forced acceptance of their interest in modified groove metal riff applications to a unique brand of technical death metal and, in more recent years, an always unstable admixture of readability and convoluted finesse has shifted towards the nowadays spectrum of technical/progressive death metal maximalism.

If you’d enjoyed ‘As the Kingdom Drowns‘ (2018) for its always pressing forth movement, melodic wiles and the second half’s mood swings into swerving Scarve-esque groove death consider ‘Divine Council‘ a sharper-dressed and more consistently dynamic addition partaking in similar modus. One of the reasons I always pull through the full discography of bands with long resumes is to identify said modus, the major thought that guides their project (or, product) development and from what I gather these folks have long taken a good hard look at what’s up in popular and emergent heavy music in general right now and applied it to their own adaptive muscle memory. It is one of a few reasons these guys still command some “cool, bro” factor twenty years after being lucky enough to be noticed but, that isn’t the whole gig parsed by a longshot. What we’re soaked with here on ‘Divine Council‘ may not be entirely obvious at a glance due to the pro-level presentation of the album and the sharp complexity of the lead single’s guitar forward approach is just how alt-metal this refreshed, modernized sound is.

Enslavement” is perhaps the most obvious nod to all-in commercial tech-metal extravagance on the record, a harmonic glinting buzzer which eventually calls for a full synthetic symphonic event atop its simply woven core grooves. But sure, every Psycroptic record has that one accessible piece on it that steps outside their skin a bit more, eh? In fact by the time you’ll actually hit “Enslavement” on the actual running order it’ll likely feel like par for the course, perhaps speaking to how meticulously stuffed with catchier, even more memorable step-ups than we’d gotten on the previous album. Opener “Rend Asunder” in fact pulls many of the same tricks just short of injecting any synth pomp into the fray, hardly attempting to lighten up the repetitive riff-whorls and battered insistence of the main rhythms. It ends up being an energizing starting point which’d felt surprisingly straight forward for a band who’ve never quite excelled at their choices for opening numbers. “A Fool’s Errand” doesn’t reign it in, either, a sort of thrashing undercurrent pulling some of their more needling crescendos and slow-bent chords into what I’d consider one of the better pieces to set precedent for the full listen. The use of refrain is already predictable within each of those first two songs as they smoke past, a trick which is worn out quickly on the full listen, but it is supremely effective upon first listen for those seeking a fast paced thrill ride of technical guitar centric pummel. The caveat here being that if you, like me, had dropped off when ‘Ob(Servant)‘ reared its head years ago I’m not sure you’re going to stick with this thing beyond the first scrape through the abrasive, noxious deathcore-adjacent struggle of “This Shadowed World”, simultaneously the shortest song on the record and the biggest ask for my taste.

For my own taste “Ashes of Our Empire” was more-or-less the Side A killer, an overstatement of the motif pulling through each song up ’til that point which’d had me setting this record aside as a gimmick thick record from a band I’d lost interest in back in ~2006, not such an uncommon event nowadays but I’d ultimately pull back into this thing after putting ‘Divine Council‘ down beyond the first few listens. The simple development of “Awakening” from a crawl to a buzzing, descending piece isn’t so heady or complex that it bears analysis but the effect of the song in motion had nonetheless been a highlight upon successive listens, there is a conflicted headspace explored on this record which seems to come from a place of forced self-examination, a long furrowed brow managing some deeper existential or philosophical gumption as we hit the home stretch on the track list. The variety is there and in that sense the songcraft here is a step up from the repetitive, or, obsessive point of focus found on ‘As the Kingdom Drowns‘ yet things begin to flounder and lose their aggressive edge just as this revelation comes with the non-statement of “A Fragile Existence” and the roused but fading second bookend of “Exitus”, wherein the synth now threatens to occlude the statement of the piece as opposed to the boon it’d offered on “Enslavement”. The full listen is certainly more dynamic than Psycroptic have been for quite some time yet this only highlights the lack of a comfort zone which exists for the composers at a slower pace.

It definitely felt like Psycroptic hit the refresh button back in 2018 and if you’d agree, I don’t doubt that ‘Divine Council‘ will feel like a logical step-up from that fresh high point from a band who’d long lost their fascinating plumage in the eyes of the underground death metal headspace. The lasting value of this album will however depend upon the tech-death aficionado doing their best not to dig too deep beneath the surface, appreciating the dynamism of the thread and its play with fluxion of groove, respite, and snappy hooks rather than picking at the larger conversation the record presents which — ain’t that deep for their lane. The major thought and, I suppose realization that’d come with picking this band back up and appreciating where they are at now is some sense that I can hang with their history and still appreciate their nowadays accessible tech-metal streak as it has evolving into a decidedly mature and highly professional format. I’m not a reborn fan just yet but I am certainly entertained. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
ARTIST:PSYCROPTIC
TITLE:Divine Council
LABEL(S):EVP Recordings,
Prosthetic Records
RELEASE DATE:August 12th, 2022

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