Monday, 24 September 2012

Ophidian I - Solvet Saeclum (2012)

1. Mark Of An Obsidian 5:05
2. Shedyet 5:24
3. Solvet Saeclum 4:13
4. Zone Of Alienation 4:45
5. Tectonic Collapse 2:59
6. Eclipse 4:02
7. Nadir 7:20
8. Ethereal Abyss 4:05
9. The Discontinuity Of A Fundamental Element 5:03
Total Time: 42:53
For this first article I've decided to review the debut album from Iceland based tech-death band Ophidian I. I know what you're all thinking, Iceland may not have much to contribute on musically on a world scale considering the entire country has the same population as some cities. But there are some hidden gems in this distant volcanic nation.

While many are aware of Iceland's famous alternative pop/rock acts (Björk, Sigur Rós) and many metalheads are fond of Sólstafir and their Post-rock inspired brand of black metal, Iceland is often overlooked for its viable contributions to stoner rock (Brain Police, Plastic Gods) and most of all death metal.

The first thing noticeable about this album is the quite frankly amazing artwork, which conjures up visions of a space-age apocalypse, where untold lifeforms lay dead and the planets await their destruction. Cool as hell.

After a quiet start with a phrygian mode influenced bassline, opener "Mark Of An Obsidian" kicks in with a melodic solo which leads straight into a thrashy tech-death riff, beginning the record in excellent form. The guitar harmonies are spot on and well implemented without being over-used. The vocals, mostly consisting of low growls, are deep, powerful and easily understandable even without access to lyrics. A nice breakdown closes the track in style, with drummer Tumi Snær Gíslason proving he can keep up effortlessly through any of the complex time changes this record has to offer. 

Track 2, "Shedyet" draws heavily on egyptian mythology (particularly the crocodile god Sobek and the city dedicated to his glory) à la Nile, but keeps at an enjoyable mid-pace, featuring a couple of wonderful Egyptian inspired solos and numerous bass sweeps during the bridge by talented bassist Þórður Hermannsson. The song really establishes itself as a standout favourite (of mine anyway) during the outro, where the music slows to a crushing groove and vocalist Ingólfur Ólafsson growls this refrain with absolute power and complete malice:

"I demand that you worship
 I command you to kneel before me
 I demand that you worship
 Thou shall have no other god before me"

The rest of the album continues in a similar style, alternating between technical near-perfection and crushing grooves punctuated with well constructed melodic solos. Each track has something unique and interesting to offer, be it lyrically or musically. The primary lyrical theme present on this album is Destruction and the Apocalypse, but lyrically this record is very interesting and the lyrics flow perfectly with the music, which isn't always the case with tech-death (Brain Drill, I'm looking at you...).

"Zone Of Alienation" is once again punctuated by a brilliantly melodic solo, which I must say is reminiscent of "The Ancient Covenant" from The Faceless' brilliant album Planetary Duality. Suddenly the track slowly fades out into what can only be described as Egyptian tribal music from space, a very interesting way to end such a savage track.

Continuing with comparisons to The Faceless, "Tectonic Collapse" features another outstanding bass sweep in the style of Brandon Griffin. But this is quickly eclipsed by "Nadir", possibly my favourite track on the entire album, a 7 minute tour de force of technical death metal telling the story of humanity's enslavement and eventual extermination by a new race of reptilian overlords (cool as fuck or what??).

The album finishes with the pairing of "Ethereal Abyss" & "The Discontinuity Of A Fundamental Element", which finish telling the album's story of the cataclysmic end of days in fine form. "Ethereal Abyss" begins with a very mellow clean jazz-style intro which quickly descends into madness, with the guitarists and bassist playing off each fantastically. Meanwhile, musically and lyrically, "The Discontinuity Of A Fundamental Element" is is so frantic and furious that it really sounds as if all life is coming to an end. The album closes to a furiously fast end section and screams of "SOLVET SAECLUM!!!", which loosely translated from Latin is taken to mean "The end of days".

Overall this is a fantastic debut album from a band hailing from a country that is only known for a handful of musical acts in any genre on a world scale, let alone a niche sub-genre like technical death metal. The one major problem I can find with this album is that as far as the drumming is concerned, the cymbals can become lost in the mix quite easily, other than that, this album has great lyrics, killer production and artwork, and spectacular musicianship all in one place.


Check this out if: You're a music geek like me, you love tech-death or you're intrigued by bands from countries not known for metal. Either way this album will pleasantly surprise you.

For fans of: The Faceless, Decrepit Birth, Nile, Necrophagist, Gorod.
Solvet Saeclum is out now on Soulflesh Collector Records

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