[Artwork by the incomparable Eliran Kantor]
The most convenient way to describe Desolate, the sophomore effort from Icelandic tech-deathers Ophidian I, is to call it a serious guitar nerd’s death metal album. This is far beyond the usual kind of Guitar Center or NAMM metal. Ophidian I play a hyperbolic kind of shreddy—the type of look-at-me flashiness that went mainstream when Dragonforce had the hardest level to master in Guitar Hero. It is undeniably self-indulgent and jubilant in the pure exercise of playing as many notes as possible in a miniscule amount of time.
And hooboy, is this album crazy infectious, not to mention slick. For all the sweep picks and off-kilter, rapid-fire double kick patterns this record contains (and they are legion), its greatest asset is the sense of melody that drives everything. That punchy, NES-you-just-leveled-up vibe in the main motif of “Spiral To Oblivion” might sound like the end boss of a guitar tab book you just picked up from your instructor, but it’s the punchy stop-start of the central passage, brightness of the melodies, and brashness of the leads that keep you coming back. Also the fact that when it gets mean it’s legit brutal in an early Arsis kinda way.
Brightness might be the key to the whole record. The main motif of “Sequential Descent” jumps in and out of being one and two leads, sometimes harmonizing and sometimes dancing, and finally ending up in one of the FTL shred passages in which Ophidian I specializes, but it always stays bright and almost uplifting, despite the brutal nature of the death metal foundation. This is the balance that solidifies the album. “Captive Infinity” might have divebomb riffs and trudging heft, but the fluttering leads have an almost escapist or fantastical quality to them. It’s the type of metal that wants you to look to the future, sci-fi Kantor cover and all, but ultimately is based in all those times you sat around with your friends and were wowed beyond reason by the unthinkable feats your favorite guitar heroes could perform, or by how wonky a face you wanted to make at some OSDM stank riff.
Bottom line: even if this kind of oversells it, Desolate is like A Celebration of Guilt got in bed with Epitaph and had a super coked up offspring. It’s one insanely fun tech/death album, and the type of ultra pro, obviously-made-with-glee record that will always play due to the undeniable enthusiasm behind every note. The shred will draw you in, but all the smart details ‒ in every complex rhythm, not quite straightforward blast beat, meticulously constructed solo, or wonky rhythm guitar passage ‒ will keep you coming back. Don’t always judge a book by its 8K cover.