Skin Tension - Celebrant (Self-released)

So much “technical” metal strives to negate any sense of physicality. Every guitar flourish must be effortless, every blast beat must be metronomic, and every sound must be rendered in crystal-clear production. Bands like Obscura and Archspire deal in a virtuosity expressed through (feigned) ease, hiding the real effort behind their music in favour of the smug artificiality of shred fireworks. On rare occasions though, we find a band that's willing to redefine what it really means to give a  “technical” performance. Here, Skin Tension's first wholly pre-composed release Celebrant more than competes with its tech-death contemporaries in complexity, but plays a whole other game in terms of how it’s expressed.

For one, everything about Celebrant is manifested brutally, and through significant physical strain. Every sound from Edward Longo’s guitar and Josh Byrd’s kit feels like the product of a desperate struggle to embody their otherworldly music. And otherworldly is certainly the right term to use. The production is lo-fi, but not in the pixellated sense of bedroom black metal—instead, the cavernous, reverb-soaked soundscape transforms the raw material of riffs and beats into alien winds screaming across a strange planet. Skin Tension's dense compositions similarly step beyond what can be found on Earth, surpassing brutal prog compatriots The Flying Luttenbachers or Orthrelm in their sheer onslaught of blistering rhythms and labyrinthine guitar lines. Figures like experimental composer Iannis Xenakis seem more appropriate points of comparison, especially as the record reveals compositional nuances more in keeping with avant-garde classical than extreme metal (see the timbral contrasts at the core of "Gemara", or the slippery shifts in tempo that open "Chamanchaca"). These factors coalesce into a product that certainly demands repeated listens, but deserves them too. This rare convergence of razor-sharp precision and muscle-rending exertion offers up a much-needed needed remedy to the shameful myopia of so much "technical" metal today.