De Profundis - The Blinding Light of Faith - (6.5/10)
Published on June 5, 2018
Progressive death metal is very hard to pull off and there are very few bands who I believe can pull it off convincingly. An obvious one is Death, who essentially invented the microgrenre with their 1991 masterpiece Human. They continued to produce excellent progressive death metal throughout the 90s, until they went full Judas Priest speed/power metal on The Sound of Perseverance. Outside of Death, it is difficult for me to think of a death metal band who incorporates progressive elements effectively. Atheist is pretty good; if we’re considering Gorguts prog death instead of tech death, they’d be on the list. I don’t consider Opeth progressive death metal because there are next to zero death metal elements in their music outside of Mikael Akerfeldt’s vocals (otherwise, they’re great). Don’t even get me started on Ne Obliviscaris. All this to say that it’s not easy for a progressive death metal band to get my approval. De Profundis is no different than the thousand other bands playing this style in that regard—it’s never going to be my favorite type of music—but De Profundis did win me over to an extent with their intricate guitar lines, creativity, and some fun drum and bass work.
Let me get this out of the way first: the vocals are not great. They sound half-hearted, almost like someone who is trying to do an impression of someone in a death metal band. Despite the less than perfect sound of the vocals, the lyrics are actually halfway decent, and since the vocalist enunciates clearly, it’s easy to understand them while listening. The whole album seems to be one big rail against religion, which is not super original for death metal, but some of the lyrics approach the subject in an interesting manner. One that stands out to me is, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” Heavy stuff. All told, by the middle of the album one kind of gets used to the subpar vocals and they become just another sound in the mix that can mostly be ignored for the riffs and drums behind it.
That was the lowlight; the highlight is the drumming. Tom Atherton, in true prog drummer fashion, ends up frequently sounding like Neal Peart, and that’s never going to be a bad thing. He plays some nice polyrhythms, is adept at technical fills, and uses interesting rhythms in his cymbal crashes. When he uses more traditional death metal drumming techniques—like skank or blast beats—the results tend to sound a little lifeless. I think that is partially to blame on the production, which sucks all the air and nuance out of the drum performance in favor of slick, shiny sounds, but it also comes from the fact that the drumming is so precise that it sounds a little robotic. All told, Atherton’s strength is when he’s dancing around a complex riff, using intricate cymbal patterns.
The production works a little bit better in favor of the guitars, allowing every note to shine through clearly and colorfully. A lot of the focus is on technical riffs using tapping, intricate rhythms, speed, and plenty of arpeggiated chords. There are about 50 riffs per song, all interlocking through the use of little tiny interludes to as a bridge. The riffs fit together pretty well, and these guys are good at smoothly transitioning from section to section within a song. It’s easy, however, to get lost in just how many riffs there are. Sometimes songs fail to feel like songs and end up feeling more like patchworks of “look what I can do!” There is also just a sprinkling of black metal stylings mixed into the riffing, which adds an interesting, sometimes slightly out of place, sound. It comes nowhere close to overpowering the death and prog aspects of the album, though. Think, “Is that a touch of nutmeg I taste?” rather than spitting out a dish because someone dumped too much salt in it. The guitar solos are another highlight, which are generally shreddy and lean into neoclassical stylings occasionally. They’re all quite flashy and are over very quickly in general, which kind of annoyed me throughout—why not keep going? You were on a roll! The bass guitar is interesting; reason probably being that the bass essentially just works as a jazz bass rather than a metal bass, and it ends up sounding cool in contrast to all of the other highly distorted and aggressive elements of the music. There are plenty moments when Arran McSporran gets to shine with short solo parts or when he is placed high in the mix. A lot of times, though, it’s a bit hard to hear him, which is a shame given his low-end contributions.
“Opiate for the Masses” is probably the highlight of the album. It starts of with a nifty galloping riff and it might have the best lyrics on the album. Additionally, despite all my greater instincts, I really enjoy the middle section that becomes a jazzy jam complete with a xylophone and some crazy bass work. Across the album, I found myself enjoying the proggier parts that didn’t pretend to have any interest in death metal. “Opiate for the Masses” is one; another is the prog-rock interlude in “Sons of Abraham,” which contains a couple of very nice guitar solos. The closing track is the longest, and it, too, tended more toward prog and closed out the album on a stronger note.
All told, I imagine fans of progressive death metal will probably eat this up. It even got me—someone who generally does not have much interest in this microgenre at all—to acknowledge it’s got some merit. So, I wouldn’t take my rating to mean that you shouldn’t approach this one if you are someone who is into prog death. My rating is more reflective of the fact that this isn’t really my bag; but I imagine this may be right up a proghead’s alley in a sea of soundalike imitators.