Review: Alkaloid – The Malkuth Grimoire
In my experience, super groups tend to be a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s cool to see a handful of well-known and respected musicians collaborate on an album. On the other, they’re almost always a letdown. For example, let’s look at last year’s Killer Be Killed, composed of Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Max Cavalera (ex-Soufly, Cavalera Conspiracy), Dave Elitch (ex-The Mars Volta), and Greg Puciatio (The Dillinger Escape Plan). Though the record they put out was certainly listenable, it felt like the whole thing was phoned-in. These are all accomplished artists with impressive bodies of work, but nothing on their debut album was particularly noteworthy. The potential for something amazing was there; they just didn’t capitalize on it.
Fortunately, this is not the case with Alkaloid. Formed by tech-death veterans Hannes Grossmann (ex-Obscura), Christian Münzner (Spawn of Possession, ex-Obscura), Linus Klausenitzer (Obscura, Blotted Science), Danny Tunker (Aborted), and Morean (Noneuclid, Dark Fortress), Alkaloid are every bit worthy of the title “super group.” With a lineup like this, one could reasonably expect The Malkuth Grimoire to be built on hyper-shred and blastbeats. However, one would be wrong; it’s abundantly clear that Grossmann and company wouldn’t be content with resting on their laurels.
Right off the bat, the band shatters any preconceptions of being a tech-death band in the traditional sense. Opening track “Carbon Phrases” is a spacey mid-tempo piece that sets the mood for the majority of the album. From the dissonant chords lurking beneath a menacing bass line and twinkling harmonic cascade on “Cthulhu” to the “Dyson Sphere” series’ swing theme that grows more menacing with each track, the whole album has a sinister otherworldly air about it. This alien atmosphere is accentuated by Morean’s vocal performance. Even during the album’s more traditional-sounding prog moments (“Orgonism” could almost be a lost BTBAM track), it’s his mixture of mid-range cleans, earthy growls, and deep throat singing that sets the band apart.
This isn’t to say that the band has eschewed all influence from their impressive pedigrees. “Alter Magnitudes” and the intro to “From a Hadron Machinist” are as technical as they come. The title track is a more traditional death metal number that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on an Aborted or Noneuclid album, and the latter half of closer “The Death of a Continent” echoes Obscura’s slower moments (especially since Morean’s growl sounds strikingly similar to Steffen Kummerer). The musicianship at hand is still incredible and the compositions intelligent, but more so in a wise-man-on-the-mountain way than the mad scientist antics of their contemporaries. The sole exception to this is the instrumental track, “C-Value Enigma,” foregoing thoughtful structure and progression in favor of pondering what guitars would sound like when played faster than humanly possible. While it’s certainly weird enough to fit with the album as a whole, not to mention being a cool addition for guitarphiles like myself, I imagine those who don’t worship at the altar of extreme technicality will likely skip it entirely. As the shortest song on the album, you won’t be missing much if you decide to pass it by.
The Malkuth Grimoire is a dense, monolithic titan of progressive death metal. It clocks in around 74 minutes in length with only a couple tracks under five minutes long (the four-part “Dyson Sphere” is essentially a single long song with four distinct movements). Each song has tons of layers and rarely stays on one idea for long, but it is because of this that it is so enjoyable. Despite their length, the songs rarely feel like they’re dragging on. No riff is out of place, no melody too contrived, no transition forced. Each song is so colorful and organic that I could individually review each of them, but nobody needs a 12000-word explication of me masturbating to this album. Instead, I will leave you with this: if you’ve been looking for some progressive tech-death that isn’t overly self-indulgent, then this is your album.
“The Malkuth Grimoire” is out now and available for streaming/purchase at Alkaloid’s Bandcamp.