You have brains in your head. You have feet on your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the guy who will decide where to go. – Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go!
Were Dr. Seuss still alive today, listening to Reared Up In Spectral Predation would have ripped his consciousness through such vertices that the resulting trauma most certainly would have exploded his brain. The worlds in which Universally Estranged explore on their debut album (and first documented recording) take the premise of Oh The Places You’ll Go! through a mind-bending whirlwind adventure through the horrifying darkened shadows of the cosmos, only to be completely obliterated and torn apart in an explosive display of death metal gravity. Before drifting off into the album, it is advised that you arm the mind with a sturdy mercaba: this cosmic chariot is going to take a beating.
Today is your day
You’re off to Great Places
You’re off and away!
You’ll look up and down the streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
You’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street
What a load of bullshit. If you’ve brains in your head, you’ve been down avenues of thought you don’t certainly don’t embrace. It’s inevitable; The dark curiosity to explore the unfathomable lurks in the back of the mind of any explorer of the darker realms of music. Unceremoniously, Universally Estranged jump into the meat of the album. The vicious attack of “Despoiling Souls Of Flesh Across The Galaxy,” wastes no time in getting down to business. The cosmic cannon fires into the space with the rough “OOOOUGHMPH” that brings a riff attack that shifts in the blazing fashion of Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth. It’s angular and abrasive without losing sense of song construction, unconventional. yet logical enough to grab the listener by the brain stem and yank ’em around a bit. Syncopated palm muting litters the blueprints of the guitarwork, hitting hard with those infectious head-banging moments.
While mostly rhythmicly driven, bits of leads add flavor to the structured chaos of Reared Up In Spectral Predation. “Sentient Meatsack,” for example, is littered with little searing bits of char-grilled cranial flavor. When the rhythm again takes hold of the forefront, the leads provide blazing comets of squealing feedback to add color or liquid shredding (see “Teeming With That Of Unknown Origin”). No instrument is left with idle hands or downtime and the musical efficiency is marked, especially for a band with little to no previous identity. While not quite as committed to groove as Immolation, there is an undeniable similar tack to filling every moment with intertwined action from every instrument to keep the soundscape exciting and packed with action.
The synths deserve particular note on the record. They never take the full spotlight – the focus of the songs largely remains in the riffage. Yet the keys absolutely shred in their own right, content to add creative flavorings to the spacey sounds of Reared Up In Spectral Predation. Zipping and zooming across the death metal hull of Starship Universally Estranged, they dart around and zoom past the auditory windshield like hyperspace trails, blinding comets, radioactive anomalies, and gee-whiz laser beams.
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
…The Waiting Place…
One of the few prominent instances in which the synths take precedence is on the well-placed and aptly-titled “(Interlude)” before the closing track, where they hover in a magnetic warble as the listener is cast from the full, brilliant, and colorful supernovae of the full band to a bleak void of solstice. This is, of course, the Waiting Place; yet it is not an unpleasant place to be as one awaits the blistering finish to the album. The band fire off on all cylinders with album closer, “Blistered Under The Blue Illusion.” The rhythm guitar shifts from chugging death to ripping thrash, with the leads going from upstarting tremolos to warbling wahs to finger-flurrying shredding. As the tempo breaks down, it’s as though the stringed instruments are dodging the seemingly endless space debris of the drums. The percussion finds plenty of opportunity to litter the already exciting windshield of the listener’s perspective with astroids and space dust in the forms of fills and cymbal work. The abrupt changes in riffing weave through such hazards with the skill of a natural pilot, dodging and shifting until the synths finally warble out an uneasy awakening to reality at the album’s conclusion.
Reared Up In Spectral Predation nails the cosmic death metal vibe and sends the listener on a full-on trip of grooving cosmic brutality executed on a level approaching that of contemporary heavyweights such as Blood Incantation. While the Denver band lean a little heavier into the Morbid Angel side of things, Universally Estranged hit it from a more Incantation/Immolation perspective with a touch of more rhythm-driven bluntness. The Nocturnus-level classic sci-fi sounds of the synths take a more prominent role for the Texan death peddlers in a counterpoint to the guitarwork rather than settling into a role of background atmospherics or added flavoring. It makes for a much more neon-glowing, psychedelic take on the sounds of the sinister, frigid cranial ascension toward outer space as reflected in the album’s cover art. Needless to say, Reared Up is a more than a promising initial effort and a credit to contemporary death metal that manages to embrace the old spirit through fresh eyes.
Perhaps not every one of the places we go are new, but may the ways in which we arrive there be vastly different every time.