Zealotry – At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds (2018)

Zealotry‘s first two albums are fine case studies in modern, technical death metal. The Charnel Expanse combined influences from Demilich and Immolation in groove and chord shape without being as firmly rooted in the concise song format of either band. That is, though the individual riff retained its substance, there was little by way of bookends or obvious motival suggestion, with songs for the most part writhing and evolving in entirely organic ways. The Last Witness began to chip away at the substantiality of that individual riff, so that while still in tact in outline and still greatly directing the song’s general color, it was now looser on the interior. This development naturally suited the  blown-outwards character of The Last Witness, while also giving free rein to the complex interplay of guitar voices so integral to the album’s progressive aspirations. Lost in the process was some of The Charnel Expanse‘s aggression, but this would prove to be a fair trade for the greater goal at stake here: to make a dark, concept-driven “death” metal album united in theme and texture.

With this history in mind, nobody would expect Zealotry to stop pushing the envelope on their third full length, but perhaps there is such a thing as consolidating one’s gains? The gradually thinning riff definition of the previous two albums is now near-evanescent. At the Nexus of All Stillborn Worlds is crammed with non-stop turnover of phrases, the purported intention here being representing a riff as a composite of separate voices, and yet, despite the occasional emergence of discernible melody around the edges, some of which voices have to be considered gratuitous. At any given time, one of these voices fulfills the role of mere harmonic abutment, or, when things become really hectic, a fully-fleshed out strand of expression in its own right. A side-effect of this hyperactivity is that groove as a device to alleviate tension, in the manner used by the band’s formative influences themselves, is almost completely dispensed with, thus increasing the total dissonance on offer.

There is novelty in deciphering if and how these things interact of themselves, but rarely can these effects be extrapolated to mean anything at the level of the song. For that, the band still relies on traditional swathes of big chord changes, so one is justified in wondering what purpose these abstract convulsions serve, whether they are intimately tied with the album’s theme, or if they are an end in themselves. In so much as that theme is fragmented states of consciousness, Zealotry‘s jagged, multi-faceted composition style could have a viable leg to stand on, but the latter is the rabbit hole that so many technically-skilled bands go down. To make the listener treat death metal as calculus is to deprive it of its spontaneity, and that, regardless of sincerest claims to advancing a stale genre, does not seem like a desirable outcome.

 

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