Arun Natarajan is the head of Subcontinental Records and a disciple of progressive death metal. As a veteran musician of the Karnataka metal scene in India, he came up with the idea of bringing Obscura’s Hannes Grossman over to India for a series of drum clinics. Instead, they formed a band with the intention of mixing avant-garde jazz and extreme metal into a formidable package of forward-thinking music. They were ready to go before the pandemic hit, but Grossman had to track his drums in Germany when international travel became impossible. With Bobby Koelble (ex-Death) and Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts) contributing guest guitar solos, we should be in for a tech death masterclass, right?
We need not bother assigning superlatives to the technical ability of the musicians on this record. After all, this is a genre that often prizes mind-blowing musicianship over song-writing skills. True, Moral Collapse have their moments of overkill and dilution, but the tech death served up here is worth your time and analysis. ‘Abandoned Rooms of Misspelled Agony’ is a majestic six-minute detour of Gorguts riffing, churning bass patterns and blood-gargling vocals. Here, Grossman reminds us why Obscura are at the pinnacle of technical death metal alongside Archspire. How he keeps up with the twisting guitar rhythms and myriad tempo changes is beyond comprehension. We might call this controlled chaos, yet the surprise saxophone screaming towards the end transports the listener to a prog metal realm of wide-eyed contemplation. It’ll give you a stiff neck and a drooling mouth at the same time.
No one can doubt the willingness of the band to wander far beyond their death metal foundations, yet Moral Collapse are deceptive in their complex approach to song arrangement. ‘Your Stillborn Be Praised’ is riff-heavy like classic Morbid Angel but with whammy bar theatrics and the obligatory sweep-picking passages. ‘To the Blind, All Things Sudden’ is quite easy to follow by virtue of holding back on the number of component parts and concentrating more on the primacy of the riffs and the power of the guttural vocals. Indeed, ‘Denier of Light’ demonstrates that Moral Collapse understand the boundaries between effulgence and self-indulgence, often dazzling us with their instrumentation without losing sight of the listener’s experience in the process.
Clearly, the band enjoyed the last two Imperial Triumphant records, judging by the jazz chords used on ‘Sculpting the Womb of Misery’. But this is also where Moral Collapse fall into the trap of their heroes. Like the New Yorkers, they give little consideration to the vocals, almost as if they were something to add at the end with no thought to phrasing or character. Instead we get a monotone growl for most songs, bereft of the vicious throat inflections that give death metal much of its appeal.
Yet this record deserves credit for the way it incorporates the dark ambient experimentation of a song like ‘Vermiculus’ at the mid-way point. Moral Collapse are smart enough to know that relentless tech death brushes over the heads of most listeners when a band value technicality over brutality and aggression. The way they treat us to unorthodox violins and Mike Patton/Fantomas-esque vocal phonetics on closing track, ‘Trapped Without Revenge’, shows that the tech death cocoon need not erect a chasm between artist and listener.
It may be an undertaking that demands a cerebral attention to detail, but Moral Collapse do just enough to retain your interest. Perhaps even more of the avant-garde will illuminate the experience on the next record.
Release Date: 02/04/2021
Record Label: Subcontinental Records
Standout tracks: Abandoned Rooms of Misspelled Agony; Your Stillborn Be Praised; To the Blind, All Things Sudden
Suggested Further Listening: Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury (2018), Pestifer – Expanding Oblivion (2020), Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon (2017)