Dario | Nov 15, 2023 | 0
Stortregn – Finitude
Oh, how naïve a fool I can sometimes be. Almost every year, I tend to predict my album of the year, based solely on who’s releasing new music. And apart from occasional surprises, I’m quite often correct. I’ve gotten to know what clicks with me very well and I also tend to see which of the bands I love are on a high, releasing only amazing stuff, and which ones tend to go through some phases that aren’t exactly my jam. This predictability sure tends to boost my ego a bit, whether it proves that I just know my preferences very well or that I actually have a good feel for what’s going on in the progressive metal world. But every now and then, my view of the current relevant releases gets shattered by some genius piece I never saw coming, and the latest in that category comes from Switzerland’s mighty Stortregn!
Stortregn’s 2020 album “Impermanence” is one of the few technical death metal pieces that didn’t just make a good impression on me, but actually stood the test of time. As we’re approaching 3 years since it was released, it’s still a recurring appearance in my playlists and the songs just don’t seem to grow old. I consider it to be one of the strongest The Artisan Era releases ever, and one of the strongest tech-death releases overall to have emerged in recent years. It is exceptional and uncompromising in its niche. With that in mind, and given that this year has already seen some exceptional albums on the extreme side of the spectrum, among which one can count The Zenith Passage’s “Datalysium”, Ne Obliviscaris’ “Exul” and Alkaloid’s “Numen” as highlights, I was expecting an exciting competition for supremacy to emerge towards the end of the year, as the release date to “Finitude” grew closer. What I didn’t expect, however, was that this album was going to shatter the bar, end the game and go play in a league of its own.
Stortregn – Xeno Chaos
I think the primary emotion that I was experiencing through my first audition of this album was pure disbelief. The pulverizing riffs, relentless drums, blazing guitar leads and menacing bass tones topped by demonic shrieks that battered me within the first 3 minutes of the album, as the title track roared out of my speaker, made me completely lose track of everything else that was on my mind and become completely invested in this album. Based on the way this opener was put together, I tend to think they were aiming for a similar effect to what you’d get from the overture to an opera. I don’t mean that in the sense that it covered all the themes in the album, because it doesn’t. But it just creates such a beautiful picture of what you can expect from the rest of the album that it piques your curiosity. It also feels somewhat suspended, hectic and driven towards a destination that is only found when the final chord hits and sets the stage for the second track, ‘A Lost Battle Rages On’. It is such a sublime way to grab the listener and to maintain the flow of the music into what almost feels like a narrative. The songs proceed to flow into one another as parts of a bigger body of music that is the entire album, which makes it even more captivating.
So let’s look at the content of the actual composition. As you’d expect from a tech-death album, it is loaded with extreme playing skill and brutality. The drum parts are an ongoing surge of power, driving the music forward at surreal speeds, with flawless accuracy, and navigating complex flows and transitions as they go along. Any album in this genre is loaded with blasting and machine-gun drums, but what makes drummer Samuel Jakubec stand out is his ability to contain all that speed and brutality into a harmonious flow. Each rhythm choice is complemented by a multitude of details in the form of strums, accents on snare or cymbals and road trips through the entire kit that not only prevent any second of simplicity, but also play into the transitions. I think what makes Stortregn’s craft seem so interconnected and effortless in its progression is that instead of just sequencing their musical ideas one after the other, they actually overlap them with polyrhythms, so that an element of the musical idea that is to come already becomes audible in the background of the current one. This applies to rhythmic evolution on drums and riffs as well as to melodic ideas bouncing off from one instrument to another, but it is especially noticeable on the drum patterns. Short of a few strategically placed shock moments, everything seems to flow out of everything else, like the auditive version of a kaleidoscope that reshapes its patterns into something new that bursts out of the previous image. I don’t know exactly how they did it. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but that’s how it feels.
Stortregn – Omega Axiom
On guitars and bass, we rarely get the feeling like all instruments play the same part. Each instrument has its own voice and can be singled out from the broader soundscapes if you choose to focus on it. However, the repeatability of the patterns they play seems to match in a strange synchronicity, making all the riffs and melodic themes complement each other flawlessly. The lead elements are a particularly important part of their sound. They don’t just make their melodies beautiful, but they harmonize them very well and they manage to create an epic feel, one I almost feel like describing as “iconic”, although the band isn’t exactly famous. I often refrain from saying that a band or album is “underrated” because everyone has some favourite small artist these days that they wish would become famous. But if Stortregn were to become the new most talked about band in extreme metal, I for one would not find it exactly surprising. Both the riffs and the melodies have an immense, grandiose aura, almost theatrical and certainly more emotionally expressive than anything I’ve heard in tech-death recently. For example, the tremolo picking main lead in ‘Xeno Chaos’ has the grandeur of a cinematic film score and the fiery spectacle of an extreme guitar solo melded into one. The tapping elements in the same song feel like they could be on a djent album by the likes of Born of Osiris or Textures, yet they fit perfectly with the cosmic blackened edge on “Finitude”. And that’s just looking at lead themes. They also have full-blown guitar and bass solos, even duels. And unlike most solo duels, these aren’t just written for the spectacle of bouncing the solo from one instrument to another, but they create a superb interactive play between Johan Smith and Duran Bathija’s guitars and Manuel Barrios’ (I think fretless) bass parts that build a broader musical picture together. That’s why sometimes they will alternate while at other times they start overlapping and playing on top of each other, depending on what the song calls for. The solo sections are also built on top of constantly shifting rhythmic groundworks, as can best be seen on the solo in ‘Xeno Chaos’ (can you tell that this one’s a favourite yet?) that kicks off on clean guitars, then bass and then dual leads. Another favourite song must be ‘Cold Void’ which, despite the relentlessness of the track, is quite atmospheric, evil, and very fittingly, cold!
Stortregn – A Lost Battle Rages On
On vocals, Romain Negro brings an absolute A-game in terms of death and black metal vocals mixed together. He has some insane, ungodly shrieks which don’t just sound creepy but have a lot of ferocity and volume, which is tougher to get right when doing high screams. And the lows are absolutely earth shattering! You could say his performance is a bit one-sided, but it is delivered splendidly and in the context of an album like this, it’s exactly the kind of vocal performance the music requires. Plus, given the instrumentation, the last thing the album needs is more variety. However, on ‘Cold Void’ and ‘Omega Axiom’, he slipped some eerie whispers as well.
The genre mashup is also strong with this one! There are many clean guitar parts that seem to take influences from classical music, jazz and flamenco. They’re not just thrown in there, but they’re cleverly implemented into the ongoing continuous flow of the music. And every song has some elements that make it stand out. ‘Xeno Chaos’ has the djenty element with the tapping lead guitars. ‘Cold Void’ opens and closes on space dementia inducing white noise. ‘Omega Axion’ kicks off with a breakdown that can open black holes. ‘De Inferno Solis’ has some elements that sounded slightly oriental. And in ‘The Revelation’ we don’t only get the epic closing of the album, but also a moment of spoken word that adds so much more flare to the final track.
Despite being mainly rooted in technical death metal, “Finitude” is the ultimate concoction of extremes, going through death, black and even some thrashy moments as well as branching out into many other eclectic influences. All the various elements are put together into a single, uncompromising unit of some of the most finely forged modern extreme metal I have ever encountered. And at 43 minutes in length, it is just compact enough to be able to stay relentless all the way through, without getting too overbearing on the listener. Short of First Fragment’s “Gloire Eternelle”, it was hard for me to think of any release in this scene that I would call a genre defining masterpiece. But “Finitude” is exactly that.
- Finitude (03:04)
- A Lost Battle Rages On (06:15)
- Xeno Chaos (05:40)
- Cold Void (06:12)
- Omega Axiom (06:21)
- Rise of the Insidious (04:38)
- De Inferno Solis (05:03)
- The Revelation (05:56)