Wes Hauch could be the nearest thing today’s generation has to a Dimebag Darrell guitar hero. You’ll know his angular rhythms and shred patterns from his work in The Faceless and Black Crown Initiate and might have noticed that he now plays in Devin Townsend’s live band. Yet Wes’ path to the top is a unique one, having enlisted in the US military months before 9/11 to support a young family. Not many ex-servicemen leave the armed forces to pursue a degree in guitar composition in their mid-20s, but Wes knew the six strings were his true calling. Now he’s ready to rekindle his partnership with the fearsome vocal hostility of Kevin Muller for Alluvial’s second album and first for Nuclear Blast, and this time his band are ready to ascend to the higher echelons of the metal pecking order.
Sarcoma is a statement of intent, yet there’s nothing arrogant or hyperbolic about this record. Opener, ‘Ulysses’, details Hauch’s time soldiering in Iraq where he could never succumb to hatred for the enemy despite the daily mortars threatening his convoy. “An eyeless dog in the desert we roam/ I, of infidel, pray when I’m told/ We’re serving those whose mouth never foams/ We’ll die for nothing, drilling for fool’s gold,” roars Muller in a spit-soaked baritone outburst. The music is just as adrenaline-pumped with a flurry of syncopated blasts and strange guitar fills. This is Pantera stripped of their pentatonic extravagance and loaded with seventh chords and triads. Like the best virtuosos, Wes knows how to grace our ear drums with a tasteful solo full of colourful sweeps and squealing pinch harmonics.
The Great Southern Trendkill may be the big influence on this record, but the music is closer to death metal. Close your eyes and you could be listening to a modern Decapitated album on the likes of ‘The Underling’ and the head-spinning brilliance of ‘Sarcoma’. Every note, every double-kick groove, every vocal snarl seeks its destination in the wiring of your sensory nervous system like a booster injection. Yet Alluvial have a sound of their own, somewhere between tech death, prog and groove metal. Nowhere is this more evident than on standout track, ‘40 Stories’, another song about a life-and-death encounter. Here Hauch surprises with a soothing cigarette-stained croon and liberating harmony before Muller takes over in the middle eight with a bludgeoning cameo.
Of course, guitar nerds will hyperventilate listening to this record, but those of you with a liking for the extreme metal experimentation of Rivers of Nihil and Entheos will also find much to admire. ‘The Putrid Sunrise’ is a blistering death metal attack with an eye-bulging chorus, just as ‘Exponent’ is a violent collection of chugging downstrokes and modal mastery replete with whammy bar heroics. Again, you wonder why no other band has contemplated the marriage of Pantera and Decapitated through the lens of progressive metal. Alluvial are the sound of now, with its many anxieties and frustrations hidden beneath the exterior of a civilised appearance. The discordant guitar work and irregular drum patterns only heighten the violent nature we hope to conceal in our true selves. One listen to the instrumental brilliance of ‘Sugar Paper’ with its jazz fusion framework and bass guitar explorations is enough to distil that sense of unease in you that makes you feel alive. A blast of Meshuggah riffing only adds to the purpose of training your eye to a different perspective.
Metal needs its new heroes and a new breed of musician to prepare for the time when the greats stand down. Alluvial could be one of those bands that drive the genre forward and keep it relevant as a counterculture to the mainstream. This album demands your engagement and is every bit as good as Black Crown Initiate’s masterpiece from last year.
Release Date: 28/05/2021
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Standout tracks: Ulysses, 40 Stories, The Putrid Sunrise
Suggested Further Listening: Decapitated – Anticult (2017), Pantera – The Great Southern Trendkill (1996), Entheos – The Infinite Nothing (2016)