Chuck Schuldiner Project

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


So the whole "new site" thing isn't going over as well as I'd like. The wix interface makes me want to rip my hair out. I've been going on family vacations, and lately, school has gotten in the way. I figure I'm due to take care of some reviews for Matt. I pulled up the thread and had to pick through what must have been two dozen replies from Matt that he reviewed a band. Luckily, he hasn't taken Alustrium yet, because the rest of the bands he hasn't taken yet are punk. I don't "do" punk, so that would've been ugly.

Alustrium does a style of death metal that I usually enjoy, a kind of folk inspired "tech death". Nile so far is my favorite example of this, particularly "Those Whom the Gods Detest", which, IMO, really capitalizes on the style by working it into more straightforward riffs in contrast to "Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren Ka" or even "Black Seeds of Vengeance", and takes a step away from the somewhat stilted ""Ithyphallic" in terms of rhythm structure. I included the "usually" caveat in the beginning for a reason though, and Alustrium is a bit of an exception to the rule in this case. Riffs don't work together, transitions can be choppy, the explosive force that made "Those Whom the Gods Detest" a success for me just isn't there. The song just awkwardly flows from verse to chorus, bridge to pre chorus, bridge intro to bridge body, etc. At times I wonder if Alustrium is a metalcore band that jumped off the bandwagon just a couple of seconds too late. The more I listen to the first two tracks, and the more I listen to the other tracks not on the page, the more confident I feel in this assumption. For as many chunky, moderately paced rhythm sections and high speed, creative, middle eastern sounding lead guitar passages as there are to Alustriums style, there is a boring sweep pick or one of those banal riffs that everyone uses that I don't know the term for.

So the crux of metal, as everyone should know, is the guitar, and to a lesser degree, the bass, depending on how high the recording artist throws it up in the mix. When a band flubs either, or both, of those parts of the package, the music suffers. Alustrium sinks low enough on the song structure and latter two instruments that I don't think anyone could really judge them as objectively great among a sea of far more proficient artists. The drums however, are spot on for the style. Fitting a tech death aesthetic rather than the tired old metalcore style (except during a short section of one specific bridge), the drums are so fast at some points, so accurate, and so poorly recorded, that I can't tell for sure if they're programmed or "organic". Drums like this are what really allow a tech death album to pop, granted, the song "pops" in the first place. Unfortunately the opportunity to make a really fantastic, dynamic, coherent sounding album was squandered a bit here, but hey, it doesn't detract from the sound in any way. Finally, the vocals are set back a bit too far in the mix, but what does come across loud and clear is a very solid "average". There is no real gurgle or growl, just an overall matte texture. On top of this, I just don't feel like the vocals have any real emotion, nothing about them inspires any sense of emotion beyond a simple "this guys sounds pissed".

This is usually where I roughly critique the recording quality on an album, which, for smaller bands working with often times inferior equipment and less experienced audio engineers, there are often a handful of errors in the recording that sound especially obvious and damaging, and the assessment stops there. Alustrium, as it sounds, had access to nicer equipment than a number of the other unsigned bands I've heard have, and its clear they were going for a refined, polished sound. Did they succeed? Yes and no. I want to say there aren't any glaring problems in the recording, but there are. The problems that exist are just a bit unusual and different. Rather than having the drums running together, they're very sharp and separate, but they sound very shallow and clicky; cymbals and hi hats sound metallic and comparatively very on point timbre wise, but they decay so fast that its almost as if someone recorded a cymbal for a trigger, cropped a large portion of the resonance / ringing out of the recording, and then used that for cymbal and hi hat effects. Just as a whole, the drums are too far down in the mix and sound unclear and obscured. Guitar has crunch to it, and it doesn't sound thin and feathery, but it sounds veiled and doesn't have any impact or power behind it. The bass, obviously, can be pulled up in the mix, and in general, I'm not a fan of the tone, but the bass, and the vocals, largely check out okay where recording quality is concerned. My problem is that I'm just not a fan of the mix, which leaves drums too far back, taking away from the benefits that they offer, and the vocals can get smeared over by the guitar and bass at times, which makes everything sound bad.

Compared directly alongside veterans in similar fields of metal, Alustrium doesn't hold up for me. Looking at them with a folk inspired tech death band like Nile, they're just too corrupted by their core influences to sound like a serious death metal act. Compared to a core band, the sound is just a touch too centered on more "legitimate" metal styles to fit the core bill. Even just looking at the songs in and of themselves from a musical standpoint, the only coherent flowing piece is the drum work and the lukewarm vocals. The dynamics just aren't there, and if they were to work on the dynamics and possibly mix this differently, the sound could be so much more powerful and forceful, and Alustrium would become a legitimate name in this esoteric subgenre of death metal.


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