Descend – The Deviant
Swedish quintet Descend was one of my first encounters with the joyous phenomenon that is progressive death metal. After six grueling years of silence since their previous effort “Wither”, these fine craftsmen of eclectic aggression are reborn with a new formula, and with nearly half of the line-up changed. Delivering a fresh and updated sound that shows considerable growth and maturity while maintaining their distinctive fingerprint, the new Descend presents “The Deviant”, a staggering passage through some of the darkest forms of musical expression.
The first thing I find worth mentioning in order to grab the attention of my fellow prog enthusiasts is the undeniable influence of earlier Opeth. Everything from the riffs, clean sections, vocals and atmosphere is highly reminiscent of ‘Ghost of Perdition’, ‘Deliverance’ and the likes. But there are strong traits to the music that allow it to stand out and build on the foundation that our beloved Mike has laid down, as opposed to printing a bland copy. First off, this album stands on an entirely different level when it comes to sheer power, volume and dark majesty. It is purely massive beyond all else and it just might be the most imposing sounding creation that I heard this year (and believe me I’ve heard plenty already). The death metal component is allowed to freely spread devastation, but have no fear as the musical talent and creativity stands on the same par. I’m amazed at how well they have fused the expressive and the creative dimensions of their music into one seamless blend of energy. And most counterintuitively, after they went to such an extent to bring everything together, I will now shamelessly pull them apart and address each building block in turn.
I have to commend the production. As previously mentioned, the sound is massive and the mastering is definitely the main cause of that. The bass and guitar sound has so much substance that it seems downright palpable and the drums simply slash through the wall of sound but still, the melodies and clean sections shine clear as daylight even through the most gruesome riff driven passages.
Compositionally, it is stellar. The drums lay down a phenomenal groundwork of solid, clearly paced and accentuated patterns that keep you on track even through the most progressive passages. By comparison to their previous drummer Jonathan Persson, Emil Nissilä has a slightly less fluid but equally cohesive, detailed and somewhat more structured approach. Over the skeleton of percussion, two guitars and a bass seamlessly harmonize dynamic riffage with lead melody to the point where the border becomes vague, keeping them blended in one multi-layered force that flows in unison towards the same direction and comes in waves. From moments that spotlight clean guitar chords and weeping melodies to the full force of the entire band unleashed, the transitions spark a sense of continuity that makes all contrasts feel natural. And the placement of shocking moments couldn’t be more inspired.
To fully address the emotional delivery I have to spotlight Nima Farhadian’s extreme vocal supremacy. He offers one of the most ferocious growling voices I’ve heard in recent years in terms of sheer power, volume and harsh texture. But unlike most death metal vocalists he keeps it sounding way more organic and human as opposed to sounding like an alien beast (as you might hear in modern technical death metal). This allows him to vividly deliver a sense of pain and fury that permeates every song. And to take it one step further from “Wither”, he actually makes consistent use of clean vocals, enhancing the melodic and tragic side of their sound to much greater extent, until they reach a very subtle balance between the two. It surprises me how in its ferocity, this album can sound so heartfelt and human.
When looking at the big picture, “The Deviant” is not only a leap forward in the band’s sound but a strong and unique voice in both the progressive and the death metal genres. And from a structural perspective it comes together as a whole lot better, with each song boosting more energy than the previous. It feels like a gradual build-up of tension intertwined with moments of relief that keep interrupting the brutality and allowing space for the music to breathe. Yet, by the time the title track rips through your speakers, they almost border on the realm of technical death metal, with a surge of blast beats and machinery level precise double kick work stealing the show. With this album, Descend have redefined themselves as a stronger, more vicious but also more balanced and refined artistic entity.
- Blood Moon
- The Purest One
- The Deviant