The Chasm - The Spell of Retribution (2004) - 5/5
It's amazing how long The Chasm have been churning out masterpiece after masterpiece. Since 1992, this Mexican three-piece powerhouse, fronted by ex-Cenotaph guitarist (now doubling as a vocalist) Daniel Corchado, have been playing an interesting style of death metal that features progressive, black, and classic metal influences. Their latest achievement, "The Spell of Retribution" shows them decreasing some of the black metal influences and upping the classic a bit more. It is the most blatantly melodic of all their releases and the most accessible, but it is by no means the weakest. They have not forgotten the importance of songwriting, and they retain their style of epic, melodic, and progressive death metal combined with mysterious, mythological lyrics and heavy amounts of ingeniously implemented influences outside of death metal. The end result is one of the greatest death metal albums ever released.
As usual, The Chasm's greatest strength is not in their raw technical talent or aggression, but rather their songwriting. Yes, they have the chops to keep up with anyone, from Coroner to Dream Theater, but their secret weapon has always been Daniel Corchado's ability to create songs that felt like miniature universes in a constant state of evolution. The great opening salvo, "From the Curse, A Scourge", a three-minute track and the shortest on the album, gives you a wonderful idea of how The Chasm rolls. Starting off with a tapped-solo, it then turns into a mid-paced jog of galloping Maiden riffs and powerful leads over a shifting rhythm. The main solo is reintroduced later on to keep you oriented. And this is only a minor example compared to the songs afterwards. "Retribution of the Lost Years" is a mournful, crawling epic that features melodic, doomy riffs accompanied by incredibly well done acoustic guitars, that while they are simple and most would write it off as "LOL OPETH WANNABES", follow their distorted counterparts like reflections in a mirror. In fact, the real star of this sonic slaughter is the usage of acoustics. Of course, like the rest of the album, this song does not get caught in one speed. As the song continues, the rhythm section subtly adds more tension speed, yet manages to keep the acoustic guitar leads (which feel like they're guitar solos) on the same playing field. It never goes full-out-riff-attack like some of the other tracks, but the numerous twists and turns allow The Chasm to build up a song that does not climax in an epic shred solo, but rather, the most epic acoustic section ever. Then, the band slows it down to Candlemass-speed and lets the acoustic guitars do the talking over slow, gloomy riffage and Daniel's haunting howls. "Conqueror and Warlord" goes right at your neck with percussive riffing that feels like a mix between Suffocation and Coroner, suddenly lunging out at you from the murk of the distorted guitar fuzz intro. The aggression doesn't let up as the drumming speeds up to a fast thrashy pace and subtle guitar evolving guitar melodies are introduced. Suddenly, it's mid-paced time and Corchado even throws in a simple yet tasty solo, avoiding the usual over-the-top shred-tactics of most progressive metal bands. The pacing of the song grows increasingly frantic, and out of nowhere comes a slow, eerie break from the action, punctuated with more leads and yet another solo that builds upon the simple foundations of the previous, with more dynamics thrown in and pseudo Opeth-esque acoustics that are almost whispering to you underneath the death/doom riffs that hearken back to the days of "Deathcult For Eternity: The Triumph". The above are basically what The Chasm does: creating micro-metal-universes. Basically, you get a rainbow of variety here, from doomy epics to speedy no-nonsense death metal, all with a strong sense of melody.
It takes more than just stellar songwriting to make a good album. The Chasm is an experienced band and their playing style has evolved alongside their songwriting, showcasing their improved playing abilities and increasingly inventive songwriting tendencies. This might just be their most technical album, although I wouldn't put it on the same technical level as say, Illogicist or Gorguts. In fact, maybe technical is not the best word. The Chasm play a very different style of death metal than the aforementioned bands. "Well-played" is a better example. You can tell these guys are experienced and have quite a few tricks up their sleeves, but the moderate technicality is used as a means to the end of atmospheric, powerful music rather than technicality being the end. The bass, due to production issues, is pushed a bit back into the mix. You can feel it supporting the guitars but you cannot really pick out much in the way of riffs. Which is a shame, because good guitar riffs are best supported by a good bass ones, and I can only imagine how much better this album would be if the bass work was as creative as the guitar work. "Eternal Cycle of Delusion" features some good bass licks, but aside from that, they're few and far in-between on this album, the majority being a bit hard to hear and even then, they're only passable at the end of the day. The drumming has grown and matured as well. Sure, they'll never be matching the efforts of Sean Reinert or Steve Flynn, but fills, rolls, accents and so on are all pulled off at those exact right moments. Antonio Leon handles time signature changes like a pro, and knows how to accent the atmosphere through the careful placement and execution of double bass runs, fluctuations in rhythm, and when he needs to, he can pull off furious yet organic (no drum triggers here folks) blasting. The guitar-work has changed a lot since their previous outings. The old-school death metal and black metal influences are a bit subdued on this one, and while this IS still a death metal album, it feels like the band was listening more to Maiden and Priest than Dismember and Immolation. This isn't to say you will not get stuff instantly recognizable as death metal. "Fortress", the most aggressive and straightforward song on the entire album, features lots of tremolo picking that is similar to early Morbid Angel, and a bunch of the riffs off "The Omnipotent Codex" almost sound like something Death would have done on "Symbolic" or maybe even "The Sound of Perseverance", although Death's sense of sharp technicality is replaced with a more NWOBHM-influenced sense of melody. Corchado, while he may not be Chuck Schuldiner, actually has a couple of good solos on this one. In particular, "Remains of the Covenant", containing the fewest lyrics but the most guitar solos, show him and Juan shredding it away as if it's the 80's. While the soloing was held back on earlier songs, where the solos were more atmospheric and meant to fit the mood, for a somewhat longer period of time, Daniel and Juan really let it rip on this one...albeit in a rather controlled fashion that you'd only see The Chasm doing. Maybe that's a good thing, as if they went Cacophony-death-metal-styl