Sex & Drugs & Death ‘n’ Tech – Beyond Creation’s “Earthborn Evolution” Reviewed

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I honestly don’t listen to enough new music for my assessment to be valid, but even if I did, I suspect I’d be contending the same thing:

Earthborn Evolution, the second full-length from Canada’s Beyond Creation, is my Album of the Year. It outpaces Misery Index‘s masterful The Killing Gods or Hour of Penance‘s fearsome Regicide. Both are great, obviously. But I found both to drag a little by “Side B”; whereas Earthborn Evolution is a compelling (and better-produced) listen all the way through. And it completely blows the shit out of the new Mayhem release, which I can’t even remember the name of right now.

I was wholly unfamiliar with the band until the single “Elusive Reverence” was previewed here on TovH. That day, I stumbled upon an existing-but-too-rare thing: A tech-death song that was downright hook-laden. I actually listened to it three times in a row, something I usually do only for the craftiest pop hits, radio rock numbers or advertising jingles if I find them catchy.

This is going to seem odd, but to me, “Elusive Reverence” sounded like what Opeth might have done once upon a time, if they’d taken their formula in a modern, let’s-compete-in-the-death-metal-arms-race direction rather than retrofitting it out of death metal altogether. Beyond Creation employed some of the same guitar chords, arpeggios and time signatures that Opeth used around the time of My Arms, Your Hearse, and the vocalist was not totally unlike Mikael Prog70s at his growliest. Well, that was my take based on the single, anyway.

Of course, comparisons to Opeth dissipate for me when I listen to the rest of the album; so don’t take that too seriously. Instead, what leaves an impression are two things:

First, sheer mastery of the tech death idiom –  hardly surprising since that idiom is essentially all about “sheer mastery” itself. And in a way, it’s almost gotten to the point where tech-death bands can’t be lauded for their performance expertise anymore – aside from those occasions where they somehow manage to set a new standard in blasting tempo or sweep-picking trickery. (I might add that Beyond Creation set no new standards in either here, but who’s keeping score at such an exalted level of musicianship?) The tech-death record reviewer confronts a quandary: should you really award points for musicianship in a genre where exceptional musicianship is a given? In fact, should you aggressively deduct points if musicianship gets in the way of songwriting or “groove”?

If so, I’ll let Beyond Creation off the hook in that regard. Because the second property of this record leaving an impression is the compositional prowess. “Elusive Reverence”, I think, remains the best song on the album but that’s not remotely to suggest it’s followed by forty minutes of sweeping, blasting riff-salad-plus-noodling filler. It wasn’t a fluke. Actually, the 7-minute finale, “Fundamental Process”, is probably equal to it if you can take a more thematically-sustained outing. The instrumental “Abstrait Dialog”, and the penultimate “Theatrical Delirium”, are both perhaps a little prog-for-their-own-sake, but even they don’t have me reaching for the remote yet. Moreover none of the songs overstay their welcome whatever their length, there’s twists and turns enough to maintain interest, and some moments of real melodic resonance – such as can be found in the dynamic and polymorphous “Neurotical Transmissions,” or even the short and nasty “L’Exhorde.”

But even taking the musicianship for granted, we probably have to acknowledge Beyond Creation’s bass wizard, Dominic Lapointe. I first sat up to take notice of him during the video for the song “Omnipresent Perception” from their debut album, wherein he traded lead solos with the guitarists. Here, his six-string fretless plays damn near a lead role on the third (title) track; it’s the engine that drives the writhing labyrinth. You can pretty much listen to it and imagine that he wrote the bass part first and then they wrote the rest of the arrangement around him, even if that’s not what actually occurred in pre-production. At any rate, Lapointe’s career may well be defined by single-handedly making up for the decades of bass guitar neglect in extreme metal. Playing bass in a death metal band won’t remain the easy option any longer if his legacy has anything to do with it.

If you’ll now just let me nerd out on the fidelity aspects, we come to another quandary: Should the tech-death reviewer add points for a clean – some might say “sterile” – production job? After all, anything less than the sort of production values found on Earthborn Evolution would absolutely compromise the music. Unlike grindcore or much old school death metal, you need to be able to hear the detail with stuff like this. I’ve heard plenty of deathcore records where the modern, beat-replaced, quantized and amp-simulated production values have made them less interesting listens for being more homogenized. I honestly can’t tell the difference between a lot of deathcore bands. But in tech-death, that sort of dismissal doesn’t come as easily to hand; what with the musical stakes being higher.

Well, the mantra I’ve always lived by in heavy metal record appreciation goes as follows: Competent mastering cannot salvage a bad mix. Great mixing is difficult to achieve with a lousy recording. Good recording is pointless for capturing a bad performance. And a good performance will rarely save lacklustre songwriting. By contrast, inspired songwriting and performance will almost always withstand a bad production at any step of the process from setting up the mics to hearing it at home on your awful desktop speakers. Always.

But with these guys, I’m happy to report that’s all moot; because not only have they written great songs and played the fuck out of ’em, their engineers have also wrought a recording and mixing job which gives decent impact and optimal clarity without falling into the usual extreme metal pitfalls. I don’t know whether I’m hearing real guitar amps or fake ones, but the tones are rich enough for me to imagine they’re real. Unlike what’s often the case (yes, I’m looking at you, Archspire), the kick drum doesn’t sound like a bunch of typewriters being tipped into a dumpster. We’ve already alluded to how you can actually hear and follow the bass guitar. You can tell exactly when it’s playing something different to the guitars (which is usually) and when it’s following them. And nothing – not backing vocals, ride cymbal, whatever – is overbearing nor under-represented. As a mixing effort it’s pretty much perfectly balanced. Truth be told, I barely gave the mixing any thought while listening, which is really the strongest indicator they’ve nailed it.

In terms of mastering, the band are quiet enough when they intend to be – flattered by a wholly appropriate preservation of the macro-dynamics; considering that this is a band not averse to dialing down the guitar distortion when they need to (which they often juxtapose against the punishing gravity blasts to surprisingly successful effect). The crisp percussion doesn’t sound blunted off by heavy limiting and there’s no audible clipping; so even on the CD version (which I haven’t yet gotten but which I assume the available streams I’ve heard are derived from) I’d say that all adds up to a mastering win. It might be a DR6 but it sounds a pretty tasteful one to my ears. I can’t comment on the vinyl master coz I’m not rad enough.

Although 2011’s The Aura showed all the potential and capability that any respectable debut would, and certainly had its moments musically; it wasn’t, to my ears, as compelling a listen as this. It had nowhere near the economy or mastery of composition. (Even if it did, admittedly, have more diversity in its songwriting and rhythms.) Those with the perspective of the long-time fan that I’m not might be disappointed to hear the band have moved on from their debut’s more straight-forward brutality. Yet as far as I’m concerned, album number two has put Beyond Creation deservedly into the Gorguts league. The difference with others in that league is: It’s not 1998 anymore and can we, perhaps, hope against hope that the times, in 2014, suit Beyond Creation more than times past suited their predecessors? It might just be decades of personal extreme metal acclimatization clouding my perspective; but dare I say – this is a tech-death act that has developed crossover appeal, almost. By which I DON’T mean that they need to write a few slower, conventionally-composed songs with sung choruses to reach their “market potential”.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Beyond Creation’s formula is sufficiently potent in scope that they may well attain wider exposure (for a tech-death band) just by honing what they currently offer. I know it’s a contentious call and I’ll probably be wrong; but don’t forget that throughout rock history, some of the biggest success stories turned out to be those where “the mainstream” was compelled to cross over to them rather than be compromised with. Nor should we forget that the mainstream is not the all-dismissive, top-down, horizontally-integrated tyranny it once was. We now have a whole generation of metalheads reared to the strains of Meshuggah, the music of whom is in some respects less linear (or accessible) than Beyond Creation’s. And it goes without saying that it’s never been easier to discover and absorb a band like this than it is today. No, I’m not suggesting Beyond Creation can be the next Mastodon. But the next Archenemy or In Flames? Why the fuck not? Better them than, say, Archenemy, or In Flames.

So for those not in the tech-death camp – speaking as somebody who isn’t myself – I urge you to give this a chance. The band is Beyond Creation, the album is Earthborn Evolution, appearing courtesy of Season of Mist. Available somewhere, somehow, on all reputable computers worldwide. Or just go out and buy the fuckin’ thing like I fuckin’ will. Coz I’m rad enough.

Very minimal flushing.

Featured image: Dominic “Forest” Lapointe, still shot from Official Video for Omnipresent Perception, 2012.

  • Jack Bauer, you’ve changed!

    • I’m trying a new style of going undercover wherein I completely turn into someone else? Efficient no?

  • Xan

    I loved this album. The drums are some of the best I’ve heard in a while. When I was listening to it in my car, the drums sounded so powerful.

    • Max

      It does translate quite well to car listening. I remember noticing guitar harmony parts when driving which my ears only took for granted on fancy-schmancy headphones.

      • Xan

        If I find an album I really like, I listen to it once in the car and another time with headphones. It’s surprising the different things you can hear.

  • A non-mouthbreathy tech death review? You’ve inspired me to give this album another go. Will return with opinions.

  • Tyree

    Those HHX Evolution O-Zone Crash’s are a thing ov beauty.

  • Great review max!

    • Edward

      Good gawd man, Max >>>>>>>

      If the Toilet keeps turning up with content like this I may just have to quit, haha.

      • Max is the man. I tried to stir up a little shit on Facebook though….

        • Edward

          Tried to stir up some shit on Facebook?

          • Hit refresh. Fucking Disqus

          • Edward

            I had suspected Max might have been from Australia based on the fact that he always seems to be on Disqus at opposite times of me, except when I happen to be up at like midnight or something. I’m actually working that tidbit of information into my next article, lol

          • Max

            A few nights ago I had insomnia for some reason, so for the first time ever I came onto TovH at the same time as you’d all be there. It was quite weird seeing all the comments as they appear in real time….

          • Edward

            Ha, that must have been quite the experience for the first time.

          • Max, you’re Australian? Now everything sounds different in my head…

          • Max

            I know what you mean. That’s why I took to writing about metal instead of posting videos on The Tube of You. In real life it’s hard to sound like an authority figure saying things like “This is my Album of the Year, go buy it” when I’m speaking through my nostrils, as per standard Australian English.

          • Lacertilian

            You could always exaggerate the ocker and make it bogan-satire.

          • I still love you, just a little less.

          • crazytaco_12

            I’m at work when everybody normally posts (and on Pacific Time), so I only get a few opportunities every now and again where I have a day off in the week to comment in time with everyone else. It’s definitely an odd experience. I also tend to get more upvotes because more people actually see what I’m commenting, makes me feel a little cooler every time I do it haha.

          • Edward

            ALSO: MAX

            CHRISTIAN AND I WERE SPEAKING RECENTLY.

            JOIN FACEBOOK.

          • Max

            I left Facebook a few years ago for the usual reasons people do.

            But, if anybody can lure me back it’s you, Edward. Lemme consider.

          • I use Facebook to coordinate with TOH writers all the time. It’s super handy. And fun. If you do decide to join, you can find my name in that photo up there ^^^

          • Lacertilian

            I’m guessing the favourite Australian bit.
            We are lurking.
            Prepare.

        • Gurp

          Wait, Massengill? IS THAT YOUR REAL NAME? MUHUHAHA, PREPARE FOR A HACKING THE LIKES OF WHICH YOU’VE NEVER EXPERIENCED BEFORE!

          http://media.giphy.com/media/1230rTAtEjLyLu/giphy.gif

          • I was pretty sure this wasn’t a secret. And now you know why I go by THRASHNKILL.

      • I can just picture axl having a brain aneurysm from trying to comprehend what Max wrote lol.

        • Edward

          “Well, the mantra I’ve always lived by in heavy metal record appreciation goes as follows: Competent mastering cannot salvage a bad mix”.

          *Axl commits suicide with a handgun*

        • Max

          Bear in mind Jack, I wouldn’t have discovered this band without your Thursday columns.

          • I’m glad to have been of service 🙂

      • Max

        NEVER QUIT, Edward. I Command it.

        • Edward

          I can only aspire to be a poor man’s Max, or Howard Dean, or like twelve other regular contributors to the Toilet. The writing on this site is damn ridiculous. I will say I am excited for everyone to see the next thing I am working on, and only slightly stressed out by the notion of having to finish the damn thing. Lol.

          • The toilet’s writers (including you, Edward) are the cream of the crop!

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8C4lK41SX-Q

          • Sponge Of Mystery

            Goddammit i miss him

          • I’m looking to be a poor man’s Vince Neilstein.

          • Max

            I believe it was Mr. Neilstein who awarded you for the following pearl of photo-captioning wisdom: “My Nikki Sixx replicator works! Wait – why did I build this thing?” I still get a chuckle out of that.

          • He did! I got an MS t-shirt out of it.

          • Max

            Didn’t you get like two or three wins in a row?

            In retrospect it’s hardly a surprise you became a media mogul just like Vincent.

          • more beer

            All that would take is announcing your unwavering love for Baby Metal.

  • Beunhaas

    Great review max. That song posted sounded really good. THAT BASS.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      *quits all music forever*

      • Max

        I know the feeling…

  • While we are on the subject of great bass playing, here is another new Job For a Cowboy track. http://www.metalinjection.net/av/job-for-a-cowboy-offer-you-the-celestial-antidote-a-crushing-new-track

    • RustyShackleford

      Never gave these guys a fair shot until the songs from the upcoming album started getting posted. Sun of Nihility is catchy as hell. Yep!

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Great review, Kwisatz Haderach. The song in that video is un-fucking-believable.

    • Max

      That song is the Lengthening of The Way. (As in, it compels you to hear the whole LP.)

  • Beunhaas

    Would it be a good idea to include the DR score of an album at every review? Some nerds , like me, care about that stuff.

    • W.

      I don’t think all albums are on the database.

      • Beunhaas

        You can determine the score yourself if you’ve got the digital files.

    • I predict your (and my) jimmies will be rustled by a post going up tomorrow…

      • MoshOff

        You’re very welcome.

  • W.

    Max, this review was fantastic. You have done your homeland and the hometoilet proud.

    • Max

      It’s dedicated to you, W. Long may the alliance continue.

  • Scrimm

    Great review of a great album.

  • Spear

    My interest in this band has been renewed. Awesome review!

  • Cock ov Steele

    One day, I shall acquire this album. And the fretless skills.

  • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

    A good one, great even!

  • Simon Phoenix

    That dude’s bass is ridiculous.

    He, Alex Webster, and Steve Digiorgio just need to have a bass-off already.

  • Not really my thing but these guys certainly excel at what they do.

  • Sponge Of Mystery

    I really like this band. I’d love to see them become the next big thing and get the respect and praise they deserve

  • The Satan Ov Hell

    DEAR LORD. I just listened to the new In Flames, it was horrible. What the fuck happened In Flames? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmcC9aJkBlw

    • JamesGrimm

      my favorite song by them.

  • PrincePoopyPanties

    Great CD. 🙂

  • Finished moving! Now I can harass you fuckers again! And this album is great, might not be on my EOTY lists but a solid album from a solid band (sounds the same as last album, imo though)

  • Nine Inch Males

    I usually hate tech-death but that song was amazing.