Allegaeon – Formshifter – 4.5/5
I missed their debut album. Listening to this I'm kinda wishing I hadn't, though I might not appreciated as much as I do now, but that's all irrelevant. I did miss it, and if it was close to the quality on display here it probably would have been the best albums of the year, as this one is almost undoubtedly going to end up being. You may have heard them in passing as a “Technical Melodic Death Metal” band and gone 'oh, so like another version of Arsis then?' No. Arsis are a four-piece that are so intent on playing things at a blistering pace that they forget to make half their songs memorable. Allegaeon are a Death Metal band that just so happen are capable of making solo's melt your face off whilst you nod your head to the melodic grooves. Quite frankly they're worlds apart; the focus is entirely the other way around and it's all the better off for it.
From the epic roar that is the opening you quickly realise they aren't gonna be pulling any punches, the focus on the melodies already making itself apparent as it steadily builds up to the chaos that is to ensue. The drums power on with enough presence to lend a real bite to the tracks, produced to be crisp but not so overdone as to be mechanical, the session musician responsible largely being used to great effect as a metronome for the guitarists. The bassist might spend a lot of his time doing little of note in the back (he is given one track to shine, however), but the focus of this act was always going to be on the guitars, and make no mistake they are more than capable in this department. A flurry of tapped riffs and no shortage of high speed displays of technicality pepper this album from start to finish, but what's more interesting is their lack of reliance on sheer speed, not only changing tempo but showing an emphasis on composition over technical ability. The backbone of each track is never constructed around the lead guitar work but on the rhythm, providing groove-laden line after line to sink it's teeth into you, the lead tastefully adding creative flourishes on top. Never is this focus more prevalent than when you get to the flamenco-esque acoustic sections that present themselves, an unusual choice that is never overdone, instead utilised to perfection to lend contrast to the album.
It's not without it's flaws, however. The production is capable of showing off every talent – even the bass lines often remain delightfully present, felt if not perhaps heard, and adding a thickness to the atmosphere that counteracts the guitars that left alone might otherwise sound all too thin and tinny. It's been so carefully balanced and spit-polished to perfection that it seems a little too perfect; there's no grit to it, no sense of that raw grinding, gnashing aggression that makes it all sound a little too easy to listen to, a little too 'metalcore' that detracts from it all. The vocals on occasion do little to help with this, at times sporting what sounds like the genre's trademark rasp, sounding like every other bland metalcore act when he limits his range to the mids, sounding far better when juxtaposed with the howling lows. It's perhaps fortunate then that the drums thunder so loudly, the rhythm retains such a smooth groove and the lead guitars rarely fail to deliver on a lightning quick lesson in performing that it isn't long before you couldn't care less about the little details. When the bulk sounds this impressive, it's hard not to find yourself on the edge of your seat, eagerly anticipating every note whether you're listening for the first time or the thirtieth (as I suspect I'm now approaching).
Highlights: Behold (God I Am), Iconic Images, From the Stars Death Came