Tiwanaku might have set a record for the gap between their first demo (2003) and their debut album (2022). The important thing is that they arrived at this point. Death metal anoraks will lick their lips at the promise of ex-Nocturnas vocalist and bassist, Ed Mowery, fronting a Floridian band. Like his former group, the quintet in Tiwanaku mix raw aggression, swampy guitar riffs and celestial keyboards in a blending machine and serve up the final product with an expectation that you’ll go easy on their innovations. They do enough to earn your understanding.
A new death metal album from Florida is like a contemporary punk-rock record from Seattle or a black metal release from Norway – you can’t ignore it. And this is not your typical Floridian death metal. If anything, the opening salvo of ‘Visitor from Titan’ and ‘Ghost War’ leave you speculating which European country the musicians come from if you know nothing of the band’s origins. The former starts with an adrenaline shot of double-kick eighth notes and fusion guitar soloing, but the animated bloodthirst of the vocals, and the cosmic keyboards resemble Lord Belial’s vision of blackened death metal. On the latter, they mix the spooky keyboard atmospherics of a Wes Craven horror film with the angular crunch of Agathodaimon’s gothic black metal. You might wonder if this is what Emperor would have sounded like if they continued after 2001’s Prometheus album.
Of course, the group’s Floridian origins are not irrelevant here. Tiwanaku like to modulate to different tempos at the blink of an eye, just like Death’s classic 1992 line up in the Human era. Whether you can call this progressive death metal is debatable. A superfluous one minute and forty-three seconds of dramatic film atmospherics at the beginning of ‘Nightmare Hall’ leaves you wondering when the acceleration to audio annihilation will arrive. The timid mix on ‘Swarm’ does them no favours and sounds like an old school band competing against the modern might of Shadow of Intent with pitiful results. Yet the way they fuse Obituary and Emperor on ‘Closed Minds’ is how you want Shadow of Intent to sound – messier, more malevolent, apocalyptic. These sporadic surprises keep you enthralled throughout.
Death metal with no appreciation for the translation of evil into musical form seldom succeeds, and Tiwanaku make sure you know that their art is perfidious. The pomp of ‘Giants Below Us’ parades its savage credentials with imperious delight, but the headlight-blurring power of ‘Vision Abducted’ is the true standout track on this record. This could enhance any Fear Factory album as a dystopian sci-fi tragedy of the coming AI epoch. One moment, you’re in the EMU suit of an astronaut looking at the moon’s craters beneath your feet; the next sensation is one of murderous adrenaline as the band launch into a death metal attack with orchestral hit accents.
Only one thing causes concern on Earth Base One – the inconsistent audio engineering. You need the best headphones and most sophisticated software to benefit from the underwhelming volume levels of this record. It sounds like they kept the ghost track and forgot to mix ‘Today in Battle’. They don’t help matters by using this penultimate song as an excuse to shred their instruments rather than continue with the sinister celestial aggression of earlier tracks.
The imagination and craftsmanship of the debut Tiwanaku album are its greatest assets, and the band show how to yield positive results from risk-taking. On this occasion, a stronger production job and louder mix could have elevated Earth Base One to an album of the year contender for the death metal genre.
Release Date: 04/11/2022
Record Label: Avantgarde Music
Standout tracks: Visitor from Titan, Closed Minds, Vision Abducted
Suggested Further Listening: Lord Belial – Rapture (2022), Nocturnus – The Key (1990), Agathodaimon – The Seven (2022)