Somewhere along the road, death metal bands adopted tremolo-picked guitar lines as a cardinal rule, in no small measure due to blueprints laid down by early originators. Every once in a while a band like Immolation, Demilich or Atrocity would break away from the mould with an acutely individualistic interpretation that took apart the foundations to build anew. But for the most part death metal stayed true to what Slayer hinted at on Show No Mercy, and actualized on Hell Awaits and Reign In Blood. While the Krisiun and Deeds Of Flesh school of blast n buzz is impressive in its own right when done well, death metal doesn’t need to be reined in by such constraints. Death metal, in sound and scope, is the detritus of the lunacies of an industrial age, if you will, reserving the right to turn its dissonant constructs inwards against itself. By nature a more percussive and choppier proposition than black metal, this form of extreme metal lends itself easily to an almost free-form experimentation in micro-structure, unlike the linear storytelling demanded of the latter.
In recent years, Diskord, and now Boston-based Zealotry, have adopted this approach and in the process have stepped outside of current trends to present a refreshingly unique view of what modern death metal can be. The Charnel Expanse boasts of a diversity in musical phrasing that is rarely seen in the genre today; while the mood of this album is steadfastly of the dark and outre variety, these musicians show an admirable mastery over the minutiae of music-making. Discarding alternate-picking for vast portions of the album, Zealotry instead impregnate their music with a chunkier, quasi-melodic style of riffing that derives its colour from the tastefully varied timing of picking technique and, at times, from a surprisingly raw candour. Drumming is an intensely melodic component itself, enmeshed with the guitars in a near-virtuoso display of extreme metal. This almost obsessive attention to detail in turn opens up a wider canvas for the band’s more abstract strokes, creating an atmosphere of the weird on an almost unparalleled scale in recent metal. If The Charnel Expanse was a book, it most definitely would not be held guilty of insufficient character development. This is intelligently constructed, technical death metal that doesn’t shirk on emotional resonance.