Album Review: Cathexis – “Untethered Abyss” 8.5/10 (Death Metal)

Written by John Angel

Cathexis Untethered Abyss
Dissonant death metal from Austin, TX
Releasing via Willowtip Records
Releases June 25, 2021
8.5/10

Dissonant death metal. Kind of a redundant phrase, huh? Death metal is already a nasty and dissonant music and yet there exists the subgenre dissonant death metal. How does one make death metal any more dissonant? Use less power chords with their perfect fifths and use tritones and other nasty intervals? Let the higher strings ring into one another in thick harmonic textures? Have the guitars play separate riffs that grind against each other? Be weird and have a fuckton of blast beats? No clean singing? Well, all of these things really, plus some v i b e s. And riffs. Gotta have the nasty riffs. Austin, TX, based quintet Cathexis has put out a dissonant death metal record to be reckoned with this year in Untethered Abyss.

While the press release for Untethered Abyss suggests Cathexis has been together only since 2015, metal-archives.com dates the group’s formation to 2011 and credits them with two records from 2013 that do not appear on their pages for various streaming platforms. Guitarists Chris Hallam and Sam Kang and vocalist Ian Bishop are the only members that are credited on more than one record. We can infer then that the bass and drum spots have seen some turnover. I really hope this lineup sticks because the performances on this newest release are top notch.

Now usually I tend to talk about the bass on a given record towards the end of an article, sometimes only as an acknowledgement that, yes, there is indeed bass on this album, in case you couldn’t tell. But honestly, the first thing that jumped out at me about Untethered Abyss is the bass toan. It’s nasty! It’s thicc and juicy! But it also rattles around like the hardest slaps from Korn’s Fieldy. I absolutely love the playing of Oscar Martinez, bassist for Cathexis, and the toan that he and audio engineer Jeanne Strieder dialed up adds such wonderful grit and punch to the mix.

Although it was the bass that drew me into this record, the guitar and drums are what really fascinated me during my listens (it is heavy metal after all!) The songwriting and riffing offered up by Cathexis are phenomenal. Hallam and Kang navigate intricate parts that unfold in blooms of rich texture which then collapse back into brutal, stanky riffing throughout the runtime of the album. “Red Hook” is an excellent example of this – all of the sections and riffs alternate between longer notes that are played across the guitar strings and bleed into one another and punchy, rhythmic phrases at the ends of riffs. It results in rich textures of dissonant harmony that collapse into the pithy rhythms common across the death metal spectrum. All the tracks flow so naturally too. Nothing is forced and every riff is nestled snugly into the tapestry of the song.

Drummer Felix Garza III is a beast. He flies all over the kit with pummeling blast beats and polyrhythmic patterns, matching the intensity demanded of such music and perfectly accenting the all-important guitar riffs. I want to draw attention to the drumming on “Library of Babel” – it’s a slow burner of a track and while it might not wind up as their most popular song it showcases the rhythmic sophistication of Cathexis. The first riff is tasty already and Garza adds some nice flourishes, but things get really weird around the 1:30 mark. Triplets are everywhere and often not grouped in their normal sets of 3. Every kind of rhythmic subdivision is flying around and there’s moments where I can’t tell if they’re doing some wild rhythmic modulation or just straight up changed tempos! “Library of Babel” is a masterclass of utilizing complex rhythms to jarring effect. It’s a device that really adds to the dissonance of this dissonant death metal.

Speaking of triplets, Cathexis live and die by them. Triplets are common enough in most every kind of music but they are all over Untethered Abyss, shoved in every nook and cranny. “Harrowing Manifestation” showcases how the band utilizes the triplet. Around the 2:30 mark the drums take up fast, constant triplets in the kick drum that contrast with the simple rhythm (as in based on even groupings of notes, not 3’s) of the guitars and bass. However, the guitar riff has lots of triplet accents that are maintained until the end of the track. Moments like these are all over the record. I really hope I get to see Cathexis once we get live music back. Seeing a band translate this level of rhythmic precision to the stage would be a delight!

Not to be out done by his bandmates, vocalist Ian Bishop turns in a great performance on this record. His default scream tone is a deep growl that he can move up to a throaty mid-range scream reminiscent of Jonny Davy of Job for a Cowboy fame. He knows how to accentuate the all-important riffs served up by his bandmates and also knows when to get out of the way. Now that’s a skill not all vocalists have!

Untethered Abyss kicks some serious ass. And don’t just take my word for it: the venerable Colin Marston did the mastering and everything he touches is quality work. The songwriting is impeccable, the atmosphere is on point, and the riffs, well – they’re fuckin’ sick. Make sure to give Untethered Abyss by Cathexis a spin when it drops June 25th via Willowtip Records!

8.5/10

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