Ara – Jurisprudence (2020)

Ara play technical death metal that exists somewhere in the gap between old adepts like Gorguts and Atrocity, Suffocation on Breeding The Spawn, and the hyperactive California-style favored by the likes of later-day Deeds of Flesh. Ara, however, almost entirely eschew the cloying higher frequencies of that latter style for a more suffocating approach drained of nearly all emotional color. As contemporaries go, Zealotry reside in the same rhythmic space, where percussion, over and above shadowing the riff and insinuating changes of tempo, is a distinct tool of expression in its own right, at times even usurping the primacy of the guitar in heavy metal tradition. In Jurisprudence‘s case, it makes for an interesting exercise to observe just when such extroverted percussive articulation occurs; as a (very) general rule, drums are content to supply a steady beat to tremolo runs and moments of staccato emphasis, in other words, moments of straight-ahead aggression when room for embellishment is at a premium. This music being as granulated (i.e. containing many moving parts) as it is, however, transitions and tempo changes abound, and each of these segments provides full creative license for more ambidextrous techniques to take hold.

This granulated approach of tech-death songwriting is not without its pitfalls. Paradoxical as it may sound, detail does not equal definition. The tech-death riff, when split into numerous subdivisions, no longer feels like a key, identifying part of the song, dictating where the rest of the song goes. Unceasing reductionism means that it has steadily lost substance to a degree where it barely holds together as a recognizable motif in the song’s sequence of patterns. It exists as an end in itself, adrift in a moving sea of others of its ilk, with only the rare whisper exchanged among them.

Jurisprudence runs less afoul of these caveats than its predecessor, its application of more conventional writing forms means that it operates one layer of coherence above stream-of-consciousness rambling. The album could do without the more obvious post-rock overtures (unless one thinks all modern tech-death should be relabeled post-death, which leads us down a whole different rabbit-hole): to these ears, static dissonant overwashes, jazz-inflections in the lead guitar, and obligatory slowing of tempos, have always felt like attempts at manufacturing atmosphere, and do naught but impede momentum. Outside about fifteen minutes of this extraneous fat conceivably exists an EP of solid death metal, one that would function just fine without contentious qualifiers like tech-death. But to extricate that material and make a self-sufficient album from it would necessarily make a new band of Ara altogether.

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