Chicago’s Polyptych is an ideal representation of what’s very right and wrong with metal in 2016. Thankfully, what’s amiss isn’t actually a result of something the band has done, and it’s very fixable.
First, let’s celebrate the good:
• Striking while the iron’s hot.
2016 is death metal’s year. More specifically, this is technical death metal’s year. For the knuckleheads who enjoy the puzzlier, more Borg-inspired side of the fence, there are hailed releases from Fallujah, Obscura, Wormed and First Fragment. And from the other end of the spectrum – the “less techy” technical death metal side that leans heavier on a more organic, old-school design that yours truly generally flips his shit over – we have bangers from Chthe’ilist, Nucleus, Reptilian, Zealotry and (calling this one early) Blood Incantation.
Polyptych represents a smooth blend of both ends of the spectrum. The crux is built on a foundation that’s loyal to progressive death metal with a bit of an early 2000’s Opeth feel, but unlike the Swedes and their clear King Crimson/Camel compulsion, Polyptych reinforce the infrastructure with a blackened style that’s reminiscent of Akercocke, so the ultimate objective is ferocity and adventurousness, with less time spent filling the edges with polite mellowness. In a nutshell, it’s heavy progressive death metal with a blackened edge that’s dark, spiritedly framed, and driven further by lyrics that read like a Dark Knight narrative admonishing the evils of the modern age right before the shit really hits the fan.
Diverse tempos and moods are flipped on a dime throughout most every cut, particularly the lengthier numbers, but a notable high-point lands with the 1-2-3 kick to the chops that is “Lexicon of Oppression,” “Coalescence” and “Triumph of the Swine.” The latter two reveal the band’s modest penchant for interspersing bits of moody mellowness amidst the lumbering denseness and flashes of speed, especially “Triumph of the Swine,” but a pinnacle of flailing intensity and brute strength is flexed by the fantastic “Lexicon of Oppression,” which hammers with its knotty heaviness.
• Continuing to deliver an overall package that pushes beyond the typical boundaries of DIY metal.
Most metal bands in 2016 make enough off their music to conceivably afford the king-sized version of their favorite candy bar (if even that), but Polyptych doesn’t let such a thing stand in the way of delivering an end product that’s easily as professional sounding AND looking as what one might expect to pull in from, say, Season of Mist or Metal Blade. The production on Defying the Metastasis is dynamic, burly and balanced in a way that gives each player ample (and deserved) time in the spotlight, and the visual elements for the album, provided by Chris Kiesling at Misanthropic Art, match the dark, fatalistic story arc perfectly.
Which brings me to the point where I mention how Polyptych unmasks one of the uglier warts on metal in 2016:
• What the hell does it take to get signed to a decent label these days.
These guys have already tended to all the grinding work necessary to accurately (and rather splendidly) communicate the overall Polyptych design, all that’s really needed is a label with a little more reach to help promote the product with the sort of confidence the band clearly deserves. Of course, I suppose one could also look at the issue from the angle that acknowledges the fact that it’s really wonderful to live during an age where an album such as Defying the Metastasis can see the light of day sans label help, but it just seems like these guys have reached a point where a little extra push is quite warranted.
In the meantime, however, if you’re enjoying all the goodness that is 2016’s Technical Death Metal Extravaganza, be sure to earmark May 13th for further investigation of yet another gem of the genre.