Exocrine – Legend


Bordeaux tech death enthusiasts, Exocrine, are a force of nature. Formed only nine years ago, they approach 2024 with the sixth album of their career at the ready and a contract with Season of Mist in their pockets. As a former client of the brutal death metal/slam record label, Unique Leader, they need no introduction on this circuit, but those with old school and progressive tastes might be unaware of their talents. Could this be the year where Exocrine ascend to the higher echelons of the technical death metal hierarchy?

The blockbuster drum accents and circular guitars phrasings of intro track, ‘Presage’, are keen to explore the type of introverted melodies reserved for the serious prog sphere. That’s not a bad thing when your brain wants to erect a shield to protect you against the monotony of this style of music. Of course, the segue into the title-track starts with a spurt of sweep-picking virtuosity. This is tech death, after all. Here, drummer, Theo Gendron, lays down the blast beats like an oil driller. You can hear a modicum of life in the monotone guttural vocals. Listen how the band insert an interlude of brass and synthesisers at 01:20 to break up the technical onslaught of guitars and drums. Fans of the last Fallujah album will be impressed. The drum production is lifeless and overly mechanical, but the guitar tone is thick and heavier than giving a fireman’s lift to an obese person.

Your sceptical mind might retreat into cynicism when you encounter a composition called ‘Life’. The prospect of a song of this name producing the opposite experience is a real one. But, like Archspire, Exocrine know how to produce dazzling melodies in their brutal rhythmic attack. That’s because they learned to master their instruments to an advanced classical level. The vocals have more depth to them here, sometimes even reaching for a higher rasp of savagery. They extract a welcome groove metal riff when your mind wants to collapse under the weight of the perfect symmetrical violence. There’s no doubt Exocrine’s axemen can play to a high level of ability and imagination. Drop-tuned shapes debilitate you like a marsh that stands between you and freedom from danger.

You can appreciate the Cynic influence on some of the more poignant melodic moments on this LP, but the metronomic rhythms suck the life out of them. ‘Eidolon’ is one such example. ‘The Altar of War’ is much better, where the guitars rip through the fretboard like vintage spinning looms. On this effort, Exocrine show a good appreciation of dynamic range and understand that you cannot retain the listener’s attention with one constant tempo. It allows them to squeeze in a breakdown riff at the three-minute mark for a repeat rendition of the chorus. The outro leans on Decapitated for inspiration. Your nod of approval follows like a recognition of the services provided by an underling.

But is there anything new here? Like all tech death bands, Exocrine wish they were jazz musicians. The intro to ‘Dust in the Naught’ feels like a homage to Cynic. Then they get into gear with the drum triggers working overdrive and the flu-ridden vocals blocking the soundwaves like a stubborn boulder edifice. Some of the wilder ideas stick. Inserting an EBM goth outro in the manner of VNV Nation is most welcome in this context. Splicing through a clean thrash metal assault at 02:05 with the cold efficiency of Obscura is less impressive.

There’s little room to breathe on this record. The guitars straighten you out like the hazmat suit you’ll need if you ever visit Chernobyl. Mellifluous scale patterns dazzle like glowing lights edging you closer to the abyss. You can appreciate this album as background music with occasional moments of splendour that gain your attention before the next wave of shredding loses it. The stupendous syncopation and tease of polyrhythms in ‘Dragon’ is one of these moments of brilliance. But we need more of them. Too often, you’ll feel like a patient strapped to a dentist’s chair while he removes your teeth with a power drill. ‘Warlock’ ought to be a simple case of death metal battery, but it lingers like an overpowering taste of garlic.

Exocrine would be effective as a technical groove metal band if they dared to make their music even more accessible. Closing track, ‘By the Light of the Pyre’, deserves praise for the pomp of its Triptykon French horns and orchestral posturing. Here, the ferocious alt-picking techniques of the guitarists create an effect like a bullet train at full speed. Yet you cannot escape the conclusion that this genre of music is lifeless. You want to be dazzled, but the amount of effort required kills your instinctive good will.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 26/01/2024

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout track: Legend, The Altar of War, Dragon

Suggested Further Listening: Archspire – Bleed the Future (2021), Beyond the Structure – Scrutiny (2022), Entheos – Time Will Take Us All (2023)