Let’s begin with a question that might seem a little academic: Do you need your death metal to make sense? Of course, to the complete outsider, nothing about death metal makes any sense at all, and it can be difficult to understand why people spend their time listening to something that sounds like an oversized watermelon being clobbered with a sack of crumbled masonry. But inside the death metal tent, you and I both know there is huge variation in sound, style, speed, subject, slam, sass.
And you know what? A lot of death metal that I love I simply do not understand. This is especially true of the brutal technicality of Suffocation and others in that lineage (such as Deeds of Flesh or Defeated Sanity). I listen to “Liege of Inveracity” or “Depths of Depravity” and I swoon over every twist and blast and churn but I fundamentally do not fathom what I am hearing. I can’t summon a mental structure for what’s happening. I know that the music is not random, because the band can reproduce these alien sounds note for note in a live performance, but if I try to follow the internal logic of the song it feels like trying to remember a dream that fades the moment you wake.
And here’s the thing, too: that kind of death metal is awesome. But when I listen to it, I experience it as a procession of pure sensations, a phenomenology of brutality. Because this review is about France’s technical death metal standard-bearers Gorod and not Suffocation, perhaps it is clear that Gorod is a very different type of death metal band. The Orb is Gorod’s seventh album (and first in five years), and although these nine songs navigate an almost impossibly dense tangle of notes in their forty-two minutes, every last moment of this brilliant album makes perfect sense.
To really get to the heart of it, the two different approaches to death metal that I’m describing here hinge on the songwriting style. Gorod’s instrumental prowess is impeccable, and although in the course of this review I will describe some of their songs as “accessible,” they are accessible in much the same way that the moon a “pretty big rock.” The reason that Gorod’s music makes sense is that it is written so that each song is unique and self-contained, riffs and themes are repeated in a pattern that becomes predictable shortly after you hear it, verses and choruses emerge and then recur, and all of the curious embellishments are used in rather “traditional” ways (that is, as a bridge between sections or as a way to shift the song into a different emotional tone).
Please do not misunderstand: the gentlemen in Gorod are hardly writing early Beach Boys songs here. The Orb is dense, furious, cunningly melodic, and punishingly precise. But if almost exactly the same could be said about Suffocation or any other brutal death metal A-listers, the real difference I’m talking about is that Suffocation makes me scratch my head and say, “What are they doing?” Gorod makes me scratch my head and say, “How do they do that?” Or if you’d rather think about it cinematically, maybe it’s the difference between atmosphere-driven and character-driven filmmaking. Suffocation is Kubrick; Gorod is Spielberg.
That was a lot of ground-clearing, so let’s get to it. Gorod. France. The Orb. Album number seven. Mathieu Pascal and Nicolas Alberny on guitars. Benoit Claus on bass. Julien Deyres on vocals. Karol Diers on drums. Hear it, love it, buy it, blast it for your neighbors and enemies and friends.
Album opener “Chrematheism” is one of the most blistering tunes here, kicking in at full blast before eventually settling down into something that’s nearly as restful as trying to pierce your own ears with a screwdriver inside of a wind tunnel. Later album tunes “Victory” and “Scale of Sorrows” also spend much of their time in heavy assault mode. The album is wildly diverse, though, as evidenced early on in the album on lead single “We Are the Sun Gods,” where the midsection becomes a beautiful exploration of insanely complex, clean-tone prog/fusion, a little bit like Animals as Leaders after listening to a hell of a lot of the Gipsy Kings.
Gorod touches on such a range of styles and moods here that while they surely belong to the same class as other modern tech-death greats such as Obscura, Necrophagist, Spawn of Possession, et al., The Orb should also appeal to fans of Meshuggah, Gojira, Soilwork, and modern Enslaved. The chorus on the album’s title track is a rhythmic marvel, a tightly wound staccato bruising that features deftly melodic guitar tapping as pure background, and the elegant solo that emerges in the song’s last minute is a perfect nightcap.
“Waltz of Shades” opens in a slower, ominous mode, with the two guitars playing dissonant tremolo notes while the bass hulks and looms in the background and the drums sketch out a bare bones, slow motion breakbeat around the edges. Even with how imposing and at times monstrously heavy this album is, there’s nothing leaden or overwrought about the songs – the performance and recording of each strum, pluck, tap, and trill is so immaculately focused that no element ever bleeds over or crowds out something else. In music of such perfect separation and precision, it’s all the more surprising when Gorod achieve truly emotional depths, like on the repeated “There is no temple in your name” refrain on one of the album’s many standouts, “Savitri.”
To see how this remarkable album works on so many levels, take a detailed look at the song “Breeding Silence.” It opens with a vocal call and partial instrumental tease, almost like an overture. Then, starting at 0:17 through 0:49, all four instrumental voices join to introduce the full melodic motif, which is a long, loping thing that feels as dramatically elongated as an Oliver Nelson saxophone line. The intensely busy riffing that undergirds the verses is a truncated version of that full theme, while the brief chorus is a pitched holler of an interlude. The 1:43 mark introduces a bridge that feels entirely new, although it turns out to be yet another iteration of that partial theme, except the change in drumming gives it a halftime feel, and the bass fills out a stern jump between the chord root and its minor fifth. At 2:00, they play a modified version of the overture before jumping back into the verse/chorus section, but even here, they’ve added extra layers of Deyres’s impassioned vocals to the mix.
The 2:48 mark introduces a midsection that offers a little breathing space, but with a couple of new, slippery fret slides, at 3:10 they set the scene for the breathtaking final two minutes of the song. Pascal and Albery toss off a casually perfect dual descending lead while Diers’s drums paint in the extra space and Claus’s bass bounces in the background to offset the guitar flourishes. From the 3:30 mark onward, the song becomes a neoclassical fugue of dazzling complexity. Deyres repeats the chorus atop the instrumental fury, but beneath it all the guitars are layered more and more, in a series of interlocking, overlapping taps and trills. The tangle of notes is so quick and sharp that it feels dizzying, and yet it is played so fluidly that it feels like there was no other way this song could possible be written.
The level of compositional sophistication and instrumental dexterity on display across this single five-and-a-half-minute song is stunning, and yet it is emblematic of Gorod’s approach across the entire album. They fuse devastating heaviness and smooth melodicism with ease, and bolster their technical sleights of hand with intuitive song construction and catchy, accessible choruses.
The Orb closes with a cover of the Doors’s “Strange Days,” and it is a mark of Gorod’s excellence that I, a knucklehead with an extreme dislike for the Doors, like it very much. I will trust that you, kind reader, are less of a knucklehead, and in so doing, I trust that if you like death metal, you will like this fantastic new death metal album from Gorod.
Does that make sense?