Tech-death is a monster with many forms. Sometimes the monster takes the form of a juggernaut, come to bludgeon you to death with brute strength, its fists the size of asteroids attached to arms with the power of artillery, relentlessly hammering, hammering, hammering. Sometimes the monster takes the form of a carnivore, talons and teeth shearing your skin from bone with bloodthirsty glee, carving you to carrion without a care in the world. Sometimes the monster works fast, making short work of your pain, and other times, it takes its time, a slow and murderous build-up that lets the terror sink in while it feeds on your flesh and your fear.
The end result, of course, is the same: If the monster does its job properly, you’re in a wonderful world of woe.
Untethered Abyss is the band’s first release for Willowtip, their third record overall, and the first one with the rhythm section of bassist Oscar Martinez and drummer Felix Garza III. The product of six years of writing sessions and building up on a three-song demo released in 2017, Untethered Abyss is focused, sharp, and confident. Guitarists Chris Hillam and Sam Kang lead the charge, their arrangements weaving and winding around each other, their guitars labeled left and right in the credits so you can hard-pan the mix and observe their interplay more directly, should you choose to.
It’s that weaving that defines the eight tracks that make up Untethered Abyss, both within those spiralling riffs locked in that intricate dance, and in the dance going on below them, between Martinez’s gnarled and lethal basslines and Garza’s octopus-arm drum bashing. Top that off with vocalist Ian Bishop’s direct and fearsome growl, and Untethered Abyss is like some hideous offspring of Suffocation, Ulcerate, and From Wisdom To Hate-era Gorguts, technical without getting caught up in its own flash, physical without sacrificing its smarts in favor of force, atmospheric without losing its edge in the mist.
All is not entirely perfect, but there’s much that goes right and whatever minor hiccups happen are certainly nitpicky points. Overall, these eight tracks do have a slight tendency to blur together into a whirling mass of razors, riffs poking out, or rhythms separating from the pack, for quick instances before ducking back into the maelstrom. The blast-laden skronk at the end of “Horizonless Realm Of Mechanical Retribution” that resolves into an airy spacious dissonance; the jaunty, almost jazzy midsection of “Given To The Colony” that balances its bounce against short bursts of palm-muted chunk, building into the closing chiming angularity that slides into the stuttering skree of “Harrowing Manifestation”; the swaggering stomp of “Mortuus In Perpetuum.”
Further showcasing Untethered Abyss’ intricate brutality is a clear and open production. Jeanne Streider’s mix allows for nuances to be heard and processed instead of just going for full-on wall-of-sound oppression, giving space to each instrument and letting the tracks breathe in an organic, almost loose manner that both belies and benefits the tight-wound intensity. It’s a refreshing approach for a sub-genre so often hellbent on over-the-top sonic intensity to make a point, letting the sharp edges do the talking.
Cathexis used their six years of writing to good end, and the result of that investment is an album of vicious technical death metal that cuts and clobbers, creeps and crushes. After all, that’s its job, and for Untethered Abyss, it’s a job well done. Welcome to the wonderful world of woe.
Like the old bumper sticker says: Don’t mess with tech-death.