[28 November 2012]
Death metal can be a particularly close-minded subgenre. It has a tendency towards coming up with the most compelling impressions of earlier heroes rather than breaking new ground. When done with creativity and passion, death metal can be some of the most moving, fascinating, and genuinely powerful music available (think Morbid Angel, Incantation, Atheist, Cynic, Grave, etc). However, all too often death metal can be formulaic, predictable, and almost catatonically boring. Sadly, Abiotic’s debut record Symbiosis falls into this latter category. This type of overly processed deathcore, jam packed with every possible clique in the book, offers monotony instead of intensity, and digitized gurgling where emotive harsh vocals should be.
Symbiosis is a glaring example of what happens when death metal spends too much time in the old ProTools console and comes out feeling like plastic and smelling like Hot Topic. I have been a dedicated fan of extreme metal for about fifteen years now, and on Symbiosis Abiotic sound to me like what death metal must sound like to people who have not gained a taste for it yet, and don’t much like what they hear. The vocals in particular grate on the listener; the deep growls sound like absurd parodies of low harsh vocals, and the high screaming is emotionless and irritating. Both the low “cookie monster” vocals, and the high, screaming vocals sound so overly processed that they might as well have been run through an auto-tuner. It is not necessary to understand what a harsh vocalist is screaming about, but it is necessary to feel the emotions that they are trying to convey. On Symbiosis, Abiotic offer a floating signifier of intensity, without any genuine feeling being referenced. Symbiosis feels like cold music written by computers for teenagers just cutting their teeth on extreme metal who have not bothered to listen to Alters of Madness or Left Hand Path yet, and don’t know the difference between those classic records and Symbiosis.
Symbiosis is less a collection of songs, and more a bunch of riffs and blast beats that have been haphazardly organized into ten more-or-less interchangeable chunks. Even for the seasoned death metal listener, it is almost impossible to tell these tracks apart from one another. There are a few enjoyable jazzy interludes that indicate that Abiotic have indeed listened to some Atheist, or some other likeminded outfit, but these moments are few and far between and seem out of place when they arrive. Abiotic are guilty of one of the most common and irritating tendencies within the deathcore sub-subgenre; relentless breakdowns without any buildup, and therefore, without any payoff. Symbiosis leads from one unsatisfying breakdown to the next; this tactic may get the pit going in the live setting, but on record it simply does not work. Abiotic’s bassist does deserve some credit; unlike a great deal of death metal, Abiotic’s basslines are both audible and proficient.
The fact that Abiotic are technically speaking pretty good musicians only makes Symbiosis more frustrating; if the production was less plastic sounding, and these guys spent some time writing real songs, Abiotic might be a force to be reckoned with. But Symbiosis, once again, proves one of the great truisms of modern death metal: technical ability is not enough, you need songcraft, nuance, and subtlety. Kids who hang out at Guitar Center and dig absolutely anything that Sumerian Records puts out might get a kick out of Symbiosis, but this stuff is a far-cry from the death metal that gets my blood boiling and my horns in the air.