Intonate – Severed Within Review

What in blue hell is going on in Quebec? They relentlessly unleash improbable brain-melting death metal on the world without warning. They’ve hurled Cryptopsy, Gorguts, Quo Vadis, Neuraxis, Beneath the Massacre, and many others upon our innocent fragile ears. Now, they have the audacity to give us Intonate as well? Okay, technically, their debut was independently released in 2016, but their recent signing to Willowtip is sure to see their sophomore effort find its way into the hands of many more people who have no familiarity with their work.

Release date: April 16, 2021. Label: Willowtip Records.
Do heavy snows force people to stay indoors for too long leaving them no choice but to view their instruments as an enemy that must be perfectly tormented? Has a steady diet of poutine led to bodily clogging that short circuits the mind to the point that a straightforward song becomes impossible to accept? Does being raised in an inherently bi-lingual culture crack the brain in twain and make it so two guitarists are simply unable to harmonize? Or are Canadians just really sick of people assuming they’re all nice, so they’ve shifted to proving their cruelty by aurally abusing anyone they can trick into hitting play?

I don’t know what causes it, but please, Quebec, never stop!

With thundering drums, a tremolo riff, rumbling bass, and a mighty roar, Severed Within immediately reminds us why Canada reigns supreme in tech death. In fact, that intro sounds more like the winding outro you would hear in a live set and yet it totally works to pull you in. It won’t take but a minute or so of album opener “Sever” to introduce you to Intonate’s wily ways as they have their guitars compete against each other across your hearing holes. There’s a section where both guitars are flaying their way through tight tremolos, but they are at a different end of the scale and on different timing so that when one drifts, the other riffs. Then the band offers another subtle strength via the implementation of acoustic guitars. One run of notes flits between the main riff to accent a sense of reprieve, while others are strummed and blended straight into the actual riff. This element shows up again in “Wander” and “Prolong,” but the acoustic notes are so well blended into the main guitar parts that you almost don’t notice them.

The sense of competition between instruments is ever-present, but not to the point of their music devolving into noise. Instead, what happens quite often is that the majority of the musicians will be locked into something while one or two of them go off to be an agent of chaos. It’s a brilliant way of writing that gives the listener something to grab onto while still keeping them on edge with off-kilter coloring. A song like “Within” offers several parts where the guitars simplify or slow down, but drummer Dominic Nucciarone is going full octopus all over the kit. For much of the opening, he’s even hitting the hi-hat more often than a hardcore band announcing a breakdown. He helps keep the energy high without ever overwhelming the song. “Within” also offers some excellent guest vocals from Phobocosm’s Etienne Byard (want to guess where he’s from?) and a chord pattern at the end that almost feels uplifting, which is quite bizarre for this style.

Each of the other three songs offers something unique among their style just like those first two tracks. Lead single “Yearn” has a looser structure and style more in line with Ulcerate that offers a less claustrophobic yet dramatic feel. It also features an absolutely gorgeous lead toward the middle. “Wander” has a slow intro with wind effects backing it that sound like something rock bands in the early 2000s would’ve done to sound moody and dark, but it manages to avoid being cheesy while giving the listener a moment to breathe after the layered madness that closes the song prior. “Prolong” features some of the most Gorgutsian guitar work, a doom-like crawl, some guitar work that’s openly jamming, and even a riff that simply bounces and grooves.

If they were to really commit to being Canadian, there would be a goose honking all over these great tunes. Luckily, Intonate is smarter than my dumb joke and vocalist/guitarist Nicola Nucciarone finds his inspiration from a couple of different Canadian icons. He is equal parts Mike DiSalvo hearty shout and Luc Lemay deranged howl.

Intonate does an excellent job of creating actual songs and not simply stringing together nifty parts that could easily be interchangeable. Every progression makes sense with what came before it and they often bring parts back throughout the track to help tie it all together. What’s particularly cool about it is how Intonate manages to never let any single part last too long. In fact, repeated sections are often slightly morphed so as to not be redundant. The mix and production are also a great boon to Severed Within. The album is crisp and open without being overproduced to the point of sterility; the album still sounds like humans made it. The mix affords each ear a different listening experience while still balancing everything across them for a fluid whole. If you only have one earbud in, you’ll have no clue what’s going on.

This would be an incredibly strong album for a seasoned band, but it’s all the more impressive coming from a second effort by four dudes who don’t seem to have an extensive playing history according to Metal Archives. This is everything technical death metal is supposed to be: nuanced, unpredictable, creative, discordant, brutal, and so much more.

Simply put, if you like death metal, you need to give this one a listen.

Posted by Spencer Hotz

Admirer of the weird, the bizarre and the heavy, but so are you. Why else would you be here?

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