UNIVERSALLY ESTRANGED – Dimension of Deviant Clusters (2022)REVIEW

Irreligious to the strained logic of lineages and precedence Houston, Texas-based solo death metal project Universally Estranged doesn’t have myriad eyes set on inclusion in anyone else’s bullshit, there is no thirst-wave steaming off the event horizon of this hot new thing. Their second full-length album, ‘Dimension of Deviant Clusters‘, intends to be its own thousand-armed monstre on a cosmos-keen scale, willing to breach a thousand portals and use all of its suction-tipped senses to procure that which isn’t sitting in the obvious periphery of the casual ‘old school’ death metal array. That said, I’d have to quickly concede that this sophomore record from the band does bear some deep cut brutal-yet-progressive death metal semblances which manage to bear its core mantra to the willing ear. The strange and atypical haze which lends character to the fellowe’s shocking maturation are still masterful in their prominent feature yet the experience is no less enveloped in exciting riff-driven death metal than expected, a soul-charring distillation of purpose resounding in all directions. It is more than a second intensified wave from beyond but rather an outlier rebuilt in the version 2.4.90 vacuum of the self… only gravity seems to grow in this dark, deadly place and the output is appreciably compacted, refined upon second contact.

Are we learning their language? Are they learning ours? Are they creating their own? They’re alien either way and a bit more communicative, tongues loosened by CIA grade hallucinogens and a slightly more dynamic render this time around. That isn’t to say that ‘Reared Up in Spectral Predation‘, which I’d rated highly back in 2021, was homebrewed, too dissociative or lacking in imagined space conveyed but that there’d been a great gusting distance between the ear and the vocals on that album which’d set the guitar work as the major frontispiece and focus of the songwriting and production values alike. It was and is still a remarkable album, still easy to pick up and weird out with but also one which stood up to a bit of distance for the sake of the guitar work and intermingled space ambient, video game-esque use of synth all working well in creating an energizing and imaginative spectacle. There is no less of a spectacle to behold here on ‘Dimension of Deviant Clusters‘ but rather a wet-lucent skin, a fresh landscape built upon the original modus which features all details addressed and riff-dominated ideas now begin to shape into still post-traditional yet recognizably death metallic songs. The cosmic-horrified musing of the band and that now solidifying signature essence meets broader strokes, deeper-structured rhythms, and an exoskeletal vibe framework which drinks heavily of the electro-space ambient kool-aid.

Beefin’ production values, bigger-bossed vocals, slightly longer songs, mega bleep-bloop gains, and more completely stacked pieces no longer feel like a fragmented opus in vignette but rather a thrilling laser-fueled next chapter of Universally Estranged herein. Again, the loud and ear-catching brutality braced aspect of the band is here and still weirding but it feels like less of an experiment of a great idea from a talented fellowe (see also: Labyrinth of StarsSpectrum Xenomorph‘) and more like a fresh approach to modern death metal which surely has its point of origin in a classics-minded space but has the guts and gear enough to do something reasonably different with plenty of personality to splatter about. A few more guitar layers packed around the edges of each riff statement help to keep everything set in phrase yet the real point of praise I have for the guitar work on ‘Dimension of Deviant Clusters‘ is that it not only turns on a dime at all, rather than ranting about and cutting off, but that we also find these songs a bit more naturally written for two guitars. “Psychic Laceration” is a prime example of finer detail threaded through a familiar machine. A few ‘Gateways to Annihilation‘-rollin’ riffs are braining enough to start but the chest-forth vocals and whipping quick-change beyond ~58 seconds in wakes it up, eventually pushing up to a nowadays pit-bopper at ~1:30 minutes. Point being that we get a shot of something new around every corner, a ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious‘ level of jiggering a mound of influences into one wild machine and this one features laser screams and endlessly reeling guitar effects to grow new axons with rather than catchy choruses or leads.

“Devoured From Another Time” is about as straightforward as Universally Estranged get and even they their guitar work has this wild ‘Tears of the Unborn‘-era Apoplexy (Svk) kinda flair to its rhythms. The continuous laser fire, scrambled alien voices, and such flow through the first several songs providing a sense of large scale battle, or an escape from a flurry of confrontations which peak within the first four or so tracks. “Dimension of Deviant Clusters” is fittingly a point of great differentiation for this album beyond the last, using guttural, pitched and brutal vocal styles while kicking into some of slam-adjacent aesthetics of this album without fully going there. Fans of everything from Wormed to more recent Inoculation releases should appreciate this aspect of the album even if those moments only spike up briefly within a few songs. The major takeaway from burning through this album about thirty times is that the ride is steadier and the atmospheric more consistent, we’ve gone from a collection of related ideas to an album composed from a now well-developed yet still experimental palette. The longest and arguably most involved piece on the album, “Corrupted Mind Palace“, is the crest of this wave, the peak as it hits you during the deepest cycle of this half-hour and especially so if you’re eager to hear something a shade more late 90’s prog-death out of Universally Estranged. This is the perfect buzzing note to punctuate the action of the record with and the eponymous closer basically plays the album out between some rousing riffs and its estranged ambient outro.

Picking that first LP back up and hyping up for this one turned out to be the best way to crack into ‘Dimension of Deviant Clusters‘ as it highlighted the thematic unity and unusual character of Universally Estranged‘s vision while also revealing just how much the guy has learned between album numbers one and two. It feels like the right level of continuation, not a stratospheric leap but a clear enough set of parameters improved that this hits like version two, the sequel, the next chapter of their galaxy-wide spread. This time around there was admittedly less of a mind-boggling effect, at least in terms of understanding what exactly this was, yet I couldn’t help but walk away from this record impressed with how much it contrasts with everything else going on in death metal these days, peering into its own sort of niche and picking away at exciting and involved yet proper succinct creation. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Dimension of Deviant Clusters
LABEL(S):Blood Harvest Records
RELEASE DATE:October 28th, 2022

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