Seven years since their last album, 2004’s “Calculated,” DEVOLVED, a pack of Australian expatriates now living in sunny shithole Los Angeles, have returned with “Oblivion;” a slicker, heavier, and more technical profusion of Death Metal replete with mechanically cool sound structures, manically-charged drumming, and some of the most distracting clean vocals this side of the down under.
The addition of clean vocals in Death Metal has racked the minds of musical luminaries the world over: should we…or shouldn’t we? On one hand, the right singer(s) can add a unique depth and emotion to the album’s furious counterparts that may even attract a broader fan base (chicks with big tits). On the other, the wrong singer(s) can ruin everything with the briefest of atonal inflections. In the realm of Death Metal, only a handful have successfully pulled it off, and those who have, well, they should be lauded. Those who haven’t should be patted on the back for trying, and then swiftly remonstrated for such a piss-poor choice.
So yeah, songs like “World in Denial” include terrifically lame crooning sections that sound like a decomposing Aaron Lewis from STAIND has returned from the grave (Word-to-the-Wise: Lewis is playing Country music now, and it’s not half-bad). Other tracks like “Wretched Eyes of God” and “From the Ashes” harbor more of this whiny, drone crapola. The lone exception may be “Divinity,” where the still odd vocals are used with disturbing effect, and incidentally (accidentally?) imbue the song with an interesting bipolar disorder. Of course, this is my personal asshole opinion, so if fans of FEAR FACTORY’s awful clean vocals are looking for an heir apparent, voila, here ya go, fruitcake.
Okay, on to the good shit.
Musically, “Oblivion” is pretty fierce. Present are leagues of that gnarly stop-go, polyrhythmic madness that homages MESHUGGAH much more fluidly than what this new crop of Djent flower-sniffers are currently excreting across the internet. There’s an energy to the album that was completely lost on the band’s last project; “Calculated” proved to be a fun listen, but it dried and tired quickly, nearly sounding like an unfinished record. “Oblivion” is jam-packed with sound and becomes even more tremendous when blared at audibly unsafe levels.
The first go-getter of the bunch has to be “Awakening” with John Sankey’s (ex-DIVINE HERESY) blistering drums, a suitably mosh-friendly pace, and its quasi-anthem roars by Kyle Zemanek. In its opening moments, the aforementioned “World in Denial” displays the band’s strict cohesion as instruments and Zemanek’s barks collide in frantic volleys,and besides the wretched backing vocals by guitarists Hal Berkstresser and Brett Noordin, it’s a pretty cool song. In fact, if there weren’t any clean vocals whatsoever, this album would have received a much higher score.
A great example of what this album could have been is the track “Transcendence.” Void of singing and tinged with a few samples, it’s a straight-shooting depiction of crunching Technical Death Metal that relies on its progressive instrumentation and stark ability to wow. “Virus” is also another pure and malevolently industrialized Death track.
DEVOLVED have come a long way in seven years, and the instrumentation proves this; however, it remains a terrific shame when one avoidable decision lowers the final result. It’s definitely worthy of recommendation, but in tow is an unfortunate caveat: brave the backing vocals and you’ll be rewarded with some awesome Technical Death Metal.
Me(n)tal Note: The band concludes the album with an intriguing cover of SLAYER’s “Disciple.”
(Online June 25, 2011)