Sublation – The Path to Bedlam
> Pennsylvania, US
> Releasing September 13
Do you ever listen to a techdeath album and feel like the band just switched off their brains and wrote a bunch of fast-moving notes? That no-thoughts-head-empty-just-arpeggios type shit, where the technique is undeniably impressive but it’s impossible to make yourself care? Sublation is not that. Sublation might literally be the antithesis of that. And their debut release The Path to Bedlam is fully engaged badassery that’s written intelligently and won’t waste even a single second of your time.
The two-man outfit out of Philadelphia delivers the definition of tight songwriting here, packing 10 tracks into just 34 minutes in a listen that’s crisp and quick but doesn’t feel rushed or short on substance either. It’s damn impressive, especially because this record has roughly all of the things I like in my technical death metal: riffs that bounce around like a goddamn trick yo-yo juxtaposed against brutally blackened tremolo wickedness, necksnapping yet seamless tempo and meter shifts, use of melody that’s both subtle and overt, big fat fucking slammy passages, and flashy instrumental fireworks that’ll put your local independence day festivities to shame. The focused writing hits hard and fast while never outkicking its material.
The individual elements of The Path to Bedlam are all excellent, but those killer technical performances on the instruments are the clear champion of the record. Max Svalgard, on both guitars and bass (and vocals!), lays before us a bountiful cornucopia of riffs and solos that draw on influences from all over the musical spectrum. It’s easy to hear the Arsis-esque high energy melodeath in songs like “The Alchemist”, and the sinister atmospheric lines of proggy techdeath acts like Beyond Creation in “Haunted Shores”. But then you hear a song like “Hypnotic Regression”, which I swear sounds like the lovechild of Sacrament-era Lamb of God and The Black Dahlia Murder, complete with Svalgard swapping effortlessly between channeling Morton and Adler and Eschbach and Knight AND belting out a chorus that would make Randy Blythe proud. And you check out opener “The Trepanning of the Evangelics”, which launches into the album’s first vocals on the back of a scorching bass lick a la Andrew Kim and features one of the most impressive solos I’ve heard this year, a wide-ranging beast of a thing that calls to mind everything from the malevolent dual harmonies that decorate some Immolation passages to classical scalar patterns. And yes, I know that’s a lot of names and idea to throw out there, but the album doesn’t feel derivative, and it doesn’t feel scattered either.
Drummer Danny Piselli shines across the album’s runtime as well, delivering a powerful and nuanced performance on the kit that drives the outfit’s sound and is extremely fun to listen to. It’s precise as hell and usually damn fast, of course, but there are some particularly nifty and inventive things that he does in the cymbals. He’s a powerhouse throughout to be sure—he can blast and play a mean thrash beat with the best of them and his meter shifts, like in “I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust”, are buttery smooth—but it’s those little cymbal flourishes that make his performance so charming. He adds decorative sixteenths and playful syncopations all over, transfers rhythms from the guitars into dynamic drum patterns (he does this very memorably midway through “The Alchemist”), and delights in offbeat crashes like the huge ones in the back half of “Black Monday”.
Speaking of “Black Monday”, Sublation’s lyrical approach is a deep and thoughtful one, too, and the meat of it is probably most evident in that song. How many bands do you know that are out here using spoken word from Marx’s Das Kapital on their albums, and tossing in poetic Latin on the same song to boot? “Blood for blood / We pay the debt of which we owe / Blood for blood / Seize the means, regain control”. This is intense and well-written shit across the board, from the description of a perverse Christian cult leader in “Evoked Through Obsidian” to the broken and bitter denunciation that is “Eulogy” (“Nothing hurts as much as unfulfilled hope / The water you tried to drown in still clings to my throat”).
As far as shortcomings go, there aren’t many to speak of. You can’t fault the production, which was all handled in-house by Piselli, because it sounds great; the instruments have plenty of presence, the vocals are powerful and aren’t forced to the front of the mix, and the drums are hard-hitting but don’t override the rest of the band in the way that soulless techdeath mixes often make them. I do think there’s a bit of a lull in the overall excitement level through tracks 7 and 8—this despite the quirky little oddball solo that scampers impishly out of the darkness in “Haunted Shores”—but then “Eulogy” blows the doors off their hinges with its gigantic slamming first section and ramps things back up again. I’m also gladly assigning bonus points for “The Sectioning”, the album’s intro track that sets an appropriate mood and actually leads seamlessly into the first song.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Path to Bedlam is a remarkable and addictive listen, with boatloads of songwriting and technical prowess on display across its 34 minutes. This is techdeath worth your time and attention: fantastic guitarwork that isn’t masturbatory, focused songwriting, and stylistic elements pulled from all over the musical spectrum. Don’t miss it.