With so many hallmark death metal acts releasing records this year, it would be easy to overlook outings from the lesser-known (but still quality) acts from around the world. I have one such record for you today by Italian death metal outfit The Modern Age Slavery, and it’s titled Stygian. Released on the 24th of November by Inner Strength Records, it’s nine tracks of death metal that really shouldn’t be missed.
The band cites Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation among their influences, and while the brutality of TMAS’ music does validate this, there is a lot more than somewhat ‘stock’ death metal going on here. With some light atmospheric elements bouncing around, and even some deathcore like moments, Stygian boasts a fairly rich sound. Let’s listen to the first full song on the album, “The Reprisal Within”: its opening moments are mostly atmospheric, then we get the blast beats welcoming us to the fray. Also, the guitars are going full black metal here with some tremolo-picked melody lines. After a breather that lasts only a few seconds, we get a hefty helping of deathcore. Check it out!
Vocally, this song is solid, and the production suits it really well. It took me several listens to fully appreciate all that was going on. Those who especially like the brutality of death metal have plenty to sink their teeth into, and those who are more into a progressive approach will enjoy how TMAS have made the different elements to their sound work. So do these disparate styles still coalesce in later songs? Let’s take a look. Next up is a track called “Miles Apart”. This one goes for the throat a little more consistently and in nearly every aspect of the song, namely vocals, lyrics, and instrumentation. It’s a desperate track with a disturbing video. We still get some atmosphere thrown around, but as a whole, this is a pretty straightforward death metal track. In short, it’s a real banger.
As the record moves forward, we see different approaches to song structure, and the band mostly succeeds in that regard. For instance, the song “The Theory of Shadows” takes a more melodic approach in which the vocals sit a little further back in the mix, and we are treated to riff after tasty riff. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also talk about what is essentially the title track, “A Stygian Tide”. Leading off with a mid-tempo lilt and a choral backing, this has TMAS close to sounding like fellow death metalers Septicflesh. After the intro, though, things get technical as hell with vertical riffage and blast beats for days. “The Hollow Men” bounces back and forth between a slightly gothic vocal style and something more out of the Archsprire playbook, sans the rapid-fire delivery mind you. Diversity definitely suits this band.
There are some general complaints that I have with the record, however. Mainly, there seems to be a lack of real standout moments on the album, and while I like the diversity of its songs, Stygian does lack a bit of cohesion in terms of pacing. I’d also prefer a less clicky bass drum, but it works here. This is a solid record, so if you’re a fan of death metal that’s not afraid to cuddle up with experimentation, you should get to listening. The Modern Age Slavery surprised me here, given some of the more obvious death metal aesthetics that they use in their album art, titles, and tone. Stygian is one of the more interesting death metal records I have heard this year, and that’s no small feat.
Notable Tracks: “A Stygian Tide”; “The Theory of Shadows”; “Miles Apart”
FFO: Abhorrent Decimation, Suffocation, Thy Art Is Murder