It was clear from the outset that this was not going to be a boring listen. Certain expectations go with the epithet Progressive Death Metal, I suppose, and even on the opening track of this, Alkaloid’s second album, we had gone through numerous iterations. “Kernel Panic” isn’t extreme but does have deathly growls. Most of all it’s a pleasing and well-structured song. At the start I pinpointed it as somewhere between The Who and Sieges Even before it went into classic metal and more interesting twists. It’s definitely an interesting start from the German ban from Bavaria, which is the project of Hannes Grossman, ex Obscura and currently with Howling Sycamore.
“As Decreed by Laws Unwritten” goes into murkier territory. Hefty, weighty death metal is more the order of the day. This is more like blackened punishment, not in fact unlike many Polish bands, but then it rolls or rather rumbles along like a tank. And then it breaks off and takes us quietly into an underworld of cobwebs and sinister sensations before becoming chaotic and distorted. One of the band members has a connection with Dark Fortress. The disturbed and disturbing ring in the midst of this bulldozing piece of death metal gives it away. “Azagthoth” by contrast has a decidedly Eastern ring to it, before taking on a decidedly ethereal djenty avant-garde progressive death metal edge. That’s three tracks so far and none of them have any apparent connection with each other. In fact the album has a theme of H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional universe Cthulu Mythos. Musically it’s full of darkness and resplendent with many exciting ideas.
The songs on this album are substantial, so it’s no problem that the atmosphere changes. Indeed the atmosphere is always dark and misty, but the tempos transform, as happens between the pulverising darkness of “Azagthoth” and the croaky prog-emotive melancholy of the title track. The guitar work is creepy. The vocals are croaky. The guitar work expands and there is colour. Growls, rock flamboyance and sinister melancholy combine, leaving us to work it out or revel in it. A technical structure, in evidence already, is notable on the funky “In Turmoil Swirling Reaches”. This is an unusual metal track, with discordant, bass-driven and outright deathly black sections and both soft and hard vocals to mash our brain. The discordant riff has a touch of Ephel Duath about it. This is a thoroughly absorbing track. The story moves on, and now “Interstellar Boredom” intrigues us again with its thumping rhythm and its menacing tone, which reminded me vocally of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, at least until it went haywire and deathly twirls are upon us. A sense of chaos is conveyed as the appropriately titled “Chaos Theory and Practice” casts its dark and eccentric shadow. At one point it sounds like the Martians have landed. I don’t know what they’d think of this thunderous djenty death metal. The vocals are weird and have a childish quality, making it even more bizarre. As if we haven’t had a comprehensive enough experience, the album finishes with the nineteen and a half minute epic “Rise of the Cephalopods”. It starts creepily, builds up and reaches a height of technical death metal before dropping back into murkier territory. Like “Interstellar Boredom”, it enters an alternative progressive world with suggestive vocals before expanding again and cranking up the power. Up and down it goes, swaying between fire and atmospheric mistiness. “Rise of the Cephalopods” is yet another expertly executed and thrilling track.
Every track here has bucket loads of personality and identity. “Liquid Anatomy” is entertainingly abnormal, full to bursting with ideas and stellar technical darkness. Brilliant.
(9.5/10 Andrew Doherty)