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Devil’s Reef – The Droste Observer

Devil’s Reef – The Droste Observer

Devil's Reef - The Droste Observer

My first encounter with Devil’s Reef was their EP, “A Whisper from the Cosmos”. At the time I was not much into thrash metal but very much into technical death metal, so the band’s choice to combine the genres in a unique form of progressive technical thrash was both challenging and refreshing for me. Overall, it left a positive impression. Now, two years later, I am still not much into thrash, and still very much into technical death, and the band still combines these genres. But now, I am faced with a full-length album titled “The Droste Observer”, and I must say, I’m warming up to their style even more!

The first word that comes to mind when attempting to describe this album is chaos! It is all over the place in terms of technicality, complexity, genre mashups and weird song structures. But despite that, it is quite engaging, and as an extreme metal listener, it’s not hard to get into. The compositional approach still carries a lot of thrashy elements, particularly on the drums and the shouty vocal style. But the technical intensity has been amplified and the progressive edge is stronger than ever. This means that despite the core sound, there isn’t much about the listening experience that gives a similar feeling to a classic thrash metal band. The constant shifts in pace, spurts of technicality, tempo changes and restless transitioning going on throughout most of the songs makes the songs feel really packed with detail. As a result, no matter how energetic the music might get, it still carries a strong intellectual edge and requires active involvement from the listener. If you get distracted for a few seconds, you might miss some key moments. The songs seem chaotic and all over the place at first, but are actually very well structured. If you can pay attention, they flow seamlessly from beginning to end without any sense of interruption.

Devil’s Reef – The Droste Observer

I think a lot of the restless feeling and condensed detail comes from drummer Luka Stinar’s playing. He seems fairly reluctant to settle into a groove and stick to it. Every musical idea within the songs is only maintained for a few bars before shifting into a different pace and attitude, and even when a groove does settle for a bit, he constantly needs to mess up the kick patterns or add transitions and cymbal accents to still catch the listener by surprise. Apart from thrashy pacing, he can switch to various forms of blast beats, double bass, sliced machine gun kick patterns and even odd, syncopated progressive grooves. The mashup of techniques constantly disintegrates and rearranges into something new, making the listening experience into a complete sensory overload.

On guitars, a similar cocktail of techniques shows up in the form of chunky, headbangable riffs, tremolo picking, dynamic runs that bleed into lead sections and constant progressive noodling. Beefy slamming moments are forced into contrasts with trippy thrash metal riffs of hyperactive technical death metal wankery in a constant alternation of hook and complexity that messes with the listener’s reward system in the most beautiful way possible! The bass complements the riff structures beautifully by flowing in and out of the guitar patterns. On the first listen, I wasn’t drawn too much into the bass parts, but upon listening through headphones, the bass sound gets a much better distinction and the instrument becomes a voice of its own in the band soundscape. It carries a similar edge to the bass parts in modern tech-death bands, but seems somewhat less refined and more beastly in the heavy, pummeling moments.

Devil’s Reef – Thy Eye Wreathed in Flame

The guitar solos come in many shapes and sizes. On ‘Araneous’ the solo hearkens back to classic melodic death metal, with some inserts of tremolo picking while the one on ‘The Droste Observer’ is a full roadtrip over at least 3 different rhythmic backgrounds with an amazing peak into tapping near the end. Songs like ‘The Eye Wreathed in Flame’ and ‘Cyclic Awakening’ sacrifice the idea of a singular solo and instead scatter various lead sections throughout the song, either throwing the guitars into the spotlight or enriching the sound beneath the vocals. We even hear some screechy dissonance on ‘Turbulent Reality’. A lot could be said about the lead sections but I’m honestly overwhelmed by the variety and level of detail. And it’s even more surprising when you think that all the bass parts, riffs, solos and vocals are performed by only 2 people, Brady Allen and Logan Abernethy.

And this gets us to the vocals. Like with the previous Devil’s Reef release, the vocal style isn’t exactly my cup of tea in terms of tone. It is quite one-sided mid-range screaming with a dirty, thrashy edge. It fits the sound of the instrumentals well and gets the message across but there isn’t much more to be impressed about in terms of vocals for most of the album. However, what tickles my fancy more than the vocal sound itself, is the choice of vocal pacing in songs like ‘Born of Blood’. They were able to mix up the pacing quite nicely by spitting a lot of syllables very fast or by playing with trippy and interrupted sections. On top of this, there are a few key moments that also mix up the sound and techniques used. On ‘Araneous’, ‘The Eye Wreathed in Flame’ and ‘Paradigm I: Betrayal’ we hear some strangely produced robotic clean vocals which give an eerie, sci-fi edge to the atmosphere. We also hear some backing low growls on the title track. And deathcore territory is also briefly explored in a slamming breakdown on ‘The Eye Wreathed in Flame’ and on the ending of ‘Paradigm II: Clarity’. Topping off the album with some neat pig squeals was just what I needed to feel this album is complete!

Devil’s Reef = Paradigm II: Clarity

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t call this a masterpiece. I enjoy it and admire the extreme creativity and technical prowess of the musicians, but there are other extreme releases I’d rather turn to this year. However, I can say that it must be one of the most creative and satisfying thrash-influenced records I’ve come across, and that sure has to mean something. But don’t just take my word for it, go and give it a spin yourself!

Track List:

    1. Arraneous (04:22)
    2. The Droste Observer (03:42)
    3. Thy Eye Wreathed in Flame (03:52)
    4. Paradigm I: Betrayal (06:25)
    5. Cyclical Awakening (05:17)
    6. Turbulent Reality (03:38)
    7. Born of Blood (03:55)
    8. Paradigm II: Clarity (04:53)

About the Author

Andrei Dan

Born and raised in Romania, currently living and studying in the Netherlands, Andrei was introduced to both classic and modern prog at once when he discovered Symphony X and Intervals in 2015. He has quickly grown fond of all the sub-categories of metal but keeps a focus on progressive or innovative music. Most of his free time is spent keeping track of new artists or releases and visiting concerts.

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