2/9/2009 - Review by: Etiam
Company: Nuclear Blast
An improvement across the board
Not so long ago, Psycroptic were just an underground band with a small cult following. With limited international exposure, they could only hope to open for those few death metal bands that made the trek to Australia (much less Psycroptic's native Tasmania). Through word-of-mouth recommendations and the band's inherent wack factor, their studio efforts graduated in time from self-released to Unique Leader, Neurotic, and finally Nuclear Blast. The band's profile overseas rose concurrently, and by 2008 the band landed on North America's Summer Slaughter tour. In that same year, following 2006's 'Symbols of Failure', they released their fourth album, 'Ob(Servant)'.
A quick take on the album would conclude that little has changed in the Psycroptic camp, as jerky hyper-technical riffs, blasting double bass, and competitive vocal/guitar interplay remain the order of the day. However, all the touring and stages shared with groove-heavy bands (just look at the support acts on 08's Summer Slaughter) seems to have left its mark. This is evident nowhere so much as on 'A Calculated Effort', where Psycroptic for the first time integrate the straight slow chug into their repertory. Bracketed by the scalar hooks Haley is so fond of, this new interest in note dynamics is welcome. Subsequent listens reveal other subtle changes, or fine tunings, that Psycroptic could only achieve through experience and that make 'Ob(Servant)' an improvement across the board over 'Symbols...'.
Except for the production, that is. 'Ob(Servant)' is slightly more trebly than 'Symbols of Failure'--think the typical scooped hollowness--and focuses on the crisp clarity of Joe Haley's attack. During those infrequent times when he plays a note longer than an eighth, his metallic, chorus-edged tone is allowed to sing out a bit more and hint at the mid-range this album is missing. Cameron Grant's bass is naturally going to be overshadowed, usually playing parallel to Haley's chord progression, but a mediocre tone and low place in the mix do not help his cause. David Haley's drums are over-triggered, and the snare has a distracting pop, but otherwise his performance is characteristically immaculate.
Since Haley is the only guitarist in the band, most guitar tracks on 'Ob(Servant)' are monophonic. Though he will layer in harmonies from time to time, his riffs are too spastic to benefit from a second complementary voice, so the 'simpler' instrumentation is appropriate. It is also a pleasure to hear that Haley is no longer afraid of riff repetition. Previous albums were absolutely brimming with quality riffs, but they were too disjointed to really appreciate and too rarely appeared at more than one point in the song. Here, 'The Riff' is used to define songs, rather than simply get through them, and Haley has discovered the knack of altering a voicing slightly as it repeats, creating a fresh feel and allowing the song to progress without changing its character entirely. (This can be heard on 'Slaves of Nil', one of the finer cuts, with its main riff employing a wicked trick mastered by Nile--tremolo picking a note and bending the string up a step.)
Continuing to diversify his vocal approach is Jason Peppiatt, who one of the main sticking points for fans of the original singer, Matthew Chalk. In conjunction with his standard arsenal, on 'Ob(Servant)' Peppiatt uses more of an elongated raw shout, a little akin that of Jason Mendonca (Akercocke). Though Peppiatt still isn't as wild as Chalk (few are, with Lord Worm and Attila Csihar being among them), he fits the mold of the past two albums. For today's Psycroptic, he is the better and proper frontman.
Indeed, each individual performance is at least equal to those on 'Symbols...'. This is no less than expected, however, and is a minor selling point compared to the redressing of 'Symbols...'s greatest shortcoming--monotony. At the time, even Psycroptic seemed aware of their problem, if not the solution, since 'Symbols...' had no songs over six minutes and was the first in their discography to do so. (Only 'Merchants of Deceit' was over five minutes, and was also the album's best cut.) A 'return to form' and then some, 'Ob(Servant)' is their longest LP to date, with four tracks breaching the six-minute mark. Thankfully, through greater dynamics and Psycroptic's developing songwriting skills, the album can support its song lengths. Admittedly, not every song is a killer, but the ratio of quality tracks to filler is much improved. By tweaking the smallest of details, Psycroptic are moving far beyond Chalky's eldritch excess and Haley's youthful distraction. They have become the aforementioned title, 'A Calculated Effort,' and its product is arguably their best yet.
Company: Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Raising Iron
By no means have they reached their potential
Psycroptic have returned with their fourth outing, Ob(servant), and for the first time, they find themselves on the reputable Nuclear Blast label. Hailing from New Zealand, these guys play technical death metal, bringing to mind the likes of Meshuggah or Martyr. I've not heard their previous outing, Symbol of Failure, but do own their second release, Sceptre of the Ancients, and that's where my comparisons lie.
After several listens, there are a number of things problematic here, many relating to the production. Things are just too crisp and clean this time, which isn't bad, but it takes a bit away from the brutality of the music. Second, the drums are mixed too much to the fore, and they've been compressed too tightly. Now, I understand, with the speed at which these guys play you better use a healthy dose of compression to keep things from sounding like complete mush, but this is excessive, the result being too mechanical. Also, the guitars are a little too thin. This is death metal after all, and while you don't have to have a "fat" guitar tone ala the early Sunlight Studio sound, it should have more beef to it than found here. The current vocalist isn't bad, but often his delivery reminds one too much of metalcore, and not death metal. Lastly, after a dozen listens, I'm remembering only a small handful of riffs, movements, lyrics, etc. The compositions are just too generic.
Now, lest ye think Psycroptic have completely blown it with this release, let's look at some positives. The riffing, as unmemorable as it may be at times, is unbelievable. Guitarist Joe Haley presents stacks upon stacks of swirling, manic speedsters, proving he's no fluke in the talent department, reminding one of the same complaints levied against half a million prog metal bands out there. Hell, he may even be studying Jeff Loomis in detail, as his approach is heavily reminiscent of that Nevermore wiz. The drums are insanely fast and locked down tight, I imagine drummer David Haley being hooked up to a saline injection while playing live to keep from keeling over!
So, while being on a major metal label will no doubt garner much needed exposure, these guys really need to find a bit more imagination in the writing department. The talent is there, but right now they've all but left death metal behind, and they haven't expanded upon the compositional approach while doing so. Overall, a decent work, but by no means have they reached their potential.