For Fans Of
There’s no denying that 2018 has been an absolute banner year for metal. Genocide Pact, Outer Heaven, High On Fire, Rivers of Nihil, Horrendous, Carnation, The Ocean Collective, Hooded Menace, Sleep, Deafheaven, Cult Leader, Outre-Tombe and Skeletonwitch (to name a few) have all dropped high-quality releases this year. Even Behemoth — everyone’s favourite purveyors of grim, blackened Polish extremity — got back on the pulpit with a devilishly-good thematic follow-up to genre staple ‘The Satanist’. So, it only makes sense that Aussie tech-death overlords, Psycroptic, would return from their slumber down in the dark, southern depths of Tasmania to bestow another consummate banger of shred-worthy delight upon this fucked-up world.
In a recent interview with Decibel, vocalist and lyricist Jason Peppiatt describes the band’s frame of mind going into this here seventh record: “As always with this band we wanted it to have the distinctive sound of a Psycroptic album but wanted to push ourselves further with adding new elements and having a darker vibe than on previous releases. I think we achieved our goal and this is something we are all very proud of!”
Psycroptic should be utterly stoked on that because they’ve certainly achieved that goal and then some. Enter ‘As The Kingdom Drowns’, the quartet’s massive seventh full-length album. And it feels good to have these Hobart boys back in town.
This monster is a blistering, no-frills, zero-bullshit riff-fest, one that immediately goes for the throat and does not relent in its savagery upon your jugular across these nine powerful tracks. Lead single and album opener ‘We Were The Keepers’ sets the tone of the record from the outset: staccato riffs, quick-fire snare patterns, slamming rhythms and even some well-done, subtle symphonic/choral elements. Follow-up ‘Directive’ takes a slightly different approach, with rapid tempo changes, big grooves, and a gigantic chorus punctuated by a bridge section that feels akin to doing scales with a jackhammer.
Recorded and produced by guitarist and founding member Joe Haley, with mixing and mastering handled by studio go-to-guy Will Putney, the most immediate and noticeable aspect of ‘As The Kingdom Drowns’ is how full and damn-well immense it sounds. While I can admit to not really being a straight-up ‘tech-death guy’ when it comes to my metal tastes, this record successfully avoids what I consider to be the genre’s biggest flaw: trying to do too much with not enough. Thankfully, this is never an issue for Psycroptic, as their songwriting is measured and purposeful. What with their expert musicianship on full display, and every instrument on the record having adequate room to breathe. Joe’s guitar lines are crisp in tone, and foregrounded perfectly in the mix, while his brother and fellow founding member Dave Haley (right up there with Matt ‘Skitz’ Sanders for the title of ‘Australia’s Most Overly-Proficient Skinsman’) has a drum sound that booms, cracks and sizzles in all of the right places. Jason Peppiatt continues to showcase his enviable dynamic vocal range and projection, as well as the album also debuting bassist Todd Stern, who has some notable four-string spots which hum and thrum in the background and underneath this tech-metal maelstrom.
Across ‘As The Kingdom Drowns’, Psycroptic aren’t afraid to show that they still have plenty left in the creative tan, after experimenting with ambient, groove and industrial elements across their last three albums. ‘Frozen Gaze’ pairs a bulldozing intro with hook-laden riffs, pounding double kicks, and even dashes of synths. ‘Deadlands’ mixes things up with a thrashy lead from Joe and a hardcore-tinged, punky backbone from Dave. ‘Momentum of the Void’ sports a truly monstrous groove riff, while ‘Beyond the Black’ encompasses pretty much all of these stylistic flirtations, with Psycroptic flexing at their most cohesive and potent throughout.
Album standout comes in the form of the record’s groove-heavy title track, which features some of Joe’s best riff-work date — equal parts catchy, flashy and serpentine — before the track spirals upwards towards a cosmic climax, propelled by the return of those earlier symphonic/choral elements and some haunting female backing vocals. As the longest composition on the record, ‘Upon These Stones’ begins with a cleanly-picked, atmospheric, and doomy intro – one of the most musically interesting and dynamic moments of the whole record – which leads into Peppiatt dropping a truly larynx-destroying vocal performance. Fleshed out with punishing double-kick patterns and Stern’s rumbling bottom-end, the track descends into an abyssal bridge section where the instruments drop away, leaving old mate Dave to chip away at a creepy, ethereal soundscape with a tribal-infused drum break that wouldn’t be out of place on a latter Sepultura record.
And this leads me to my very minor gripe with ‘As The Kingdom Drowns’: album sequencing. With only nine tracks and a concise 35-minute runtime, it’s obvious that Psycroptic sure aren’t here to fuck spiders. Side A of the record moves through its four tracks in a terse and efficient manner before arriving at the title track as its centrepiece. However, Side B feels a little uneven by comparison. While closer ‘You Belong Here, Below’ is an easy contender for classic Psycroptic (e.g. frantic pace, gang vocals and impressive riffage), it feels quite odd to end such a powerful record on a short, barely three-minute rager. For me, moving the progressive and expansive ‘Upon These Stones’ to the position of album closer makes thematic sense and would give the album a tighter, more balanced end run.
Along with contemporaries like King Parrot, Thy Art Is Murder and Parkway Drive, these Tasman shredders have proven once again that Australian metal is distinct, genre-defying and even world-class. Other than my own thoughts on the album’s sequencing, ‘As The Kingdom Drowns’ is about definitive as a Psycroptic album can possibly get: succinct, frantic, crushing and technically dazzling. The quartet sound content here, but in no way complacent; refined yet simultaneously ravenous. Those looking for a return to form that holds up against fan favourites like 2003’s ‘The Scepter of the Ancients’ and 2008’s ‘(Ob)Servant’, will most certainly be pleased, while the inclusion of tasty grooves and symphonic/choral sections translates to an overall epic, heavy-hitting aural experience. In short, this shit fuckin’ rips.
- We Were The Keepers
- Frozen Gaze
- As The Kingdom Drowns
- Beyond The Black
- Upon These Stones
- Momentum of The Void
- You Belong Here, Below
‘As The Kingdom Drowns’ is out now through EVP Recordings/Prosthetic Records – find physical/digital copies here.