Replacire – The Center That Cannot Hold


Fans of US prog death titans, Black Crown Initiate, will be delighted to learn that vocalist, James Dorton, is back with a new gig – this time fronting the Season of Mist tech death group, Replacire. After standing in for Xenoyr for the Ne Obliviscaris 2023 North American tour, Dorton has another opportunity to prove that nobody does modern death metal better than him. Not that his role in Replacire is an easy one to fill – Wilderun vocalist and visionary, Evan Anderson Berry, handled microphone duties for the band’s first two albums in 2012 and 2017. Can Dorton bring to life one of the most soulless and self-indulgent genres of extreme metal?

Violent contortions of guitar and rabid screaming batter your skull for twenty seconds in ‘Bloody-Tongued and Screaming’ until the band regroup under a respite of clean dissonance in anticipation of the next bludgeoning. Drummer, Joey Ferretti, puts his body through as much stress as a marine doing a beep test. Dorton’s animated vocal projections do not allow you to rest for one second. This is what Meshuggah would sound like if you asked them to play mathcore – it’s busier than a burglar in a seaside town during the tourist season. The syncopated rhythms are sharp and incisive. How ironic that the atonal parts are the calmest features.

Tech death gives little room for any vocalist to make their voice heard. Often, they’re like the intern at the back of the room who dares not to speak unless asked a question. Not here. Archspire would be much better if their vocalist dominated the microphone like Dorton does on the title-track. Here, chugging guitars and drum ‘n’ bass beats set the scene for him to fire his staccato vocal delivery in a spit-soaked vitriol. Think The Dillinger Escape Plan injected with an AI-generated plug-in of low-tuned guitars. Riffs threaten to form into regular rhythms but then fall by the wayside under the weight of the drums.

The guitarists love to punctuate their chugs with unorthodox fills. One imagines that they say to Dorton, “Here’s a song with thirty guitar parts – please bring it to life with harsh vocals and do what you want.” Sometimes, you wonder if the aim is to arpeggiate new chord formations that are the antithesis of melody. The deathcore breakdown at the end of ‘Living Hell’ is a relief rather than a tired clich. ‘A Fine Manipulation’ is the first real attempt to build from a groove, but this soon goes off on a tangent of frantic sixteenth-note rhythms. Listen how a sublime jazz fusion solo helps to expand the colour palette. Why is this more listenable than most tech death? Probably because the powerful vocal inflections and the crunchy guitar tone are irresistible. You can treat this like hardcore music if you imagine that Car Bomb or Frontierer are behind it rather than some straight-edge dudes with militant views on animal liberation.

If there’s one criticism that’s inescapable on this record, it’s the insistence on sticking to the same dynamics. ‘The Helix Unravels’ is what it sounds like when you make every instrument in the mix play to its full capacity. Can you imagine how the drummer would react if the producer asked him to record a second take because the first attempt is only ninety percent supreme? ‘Inglorious Impunity’ is like a machine gun with ten minutes’ supply of ammunition. If you want an illustration, think of the scene in Predator where Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his commandos shoot up the forests of Central America after Mac spots the camouflaged alien among the trees.

There’s no way this music emerges in the rehearsal room. The band members would be there all day just coordinating an intro and opening verse. If anything, this record would be quite lifeless after six songs without James Dorton at the microphone, no matter how many bass fills and mellifluous solos they add into the relentless aggression. You need to look for the subtleties. ‘Drag Yourself Along the Earth’ offers a rare melodic arrangement in common time with brooding vocals until the band jump into their chaotic comfort zone at forty seconds. The secret weapon in this music is the way the drums follow the shredding guitar scales in the few moments of breathing space.

It’s a wise idea to end with a prog effort built around spindly rhythms and brooding baritone vocals.  ‘Uncontrolled and Unfulfilled’ allows Dorton to prepare you for his transition from dreamer to demonic schemer with a shaky human touch. Musically, this is jazz fusion masquerading as metal rather than the other way around. We need more of this on the album for it to achieve its full potential. English mathcore experimenters, Utopia, have set the standard for this year and do it better than Replacire.

Nevertheless, The Center That Cannot Hold is enlivening enough to warrant more than two listens, which is something we seldom say about tech death. In that regard, it can be considered a triumph.


Verdict


Release Date: 21/06/2024

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: Bloody-Tongued and Screaming, A Fine Manipulation, Hoard the Trauma Like Wealth

Suggested Further Listening: End – The Sin of Human Frailty (2023), Utopia – Shame (2024), Weston Super Maim – See You Tomorrow Baby (2024)