There's a small number of Japanese and Japanese influenced Technical/Progressive/Melodic Death Metal bands or albums […]
By Max Elias
February 4, 2021
Abiotic - Ikigai album cover

There's a small number of Japanese and Japanese influenced Technical/Progressive/Melodic Death Metal bands or albums out there, but now we can add ABIOTIC's third full length, Ikiigai, to the list. A band renowned for mixing brutality with intricacy and technical brilliance, they make sure to establish the theme of the album from the first notes of the instrumental "Natsukashii", in which the Eastern melodies and traditional instruments pay homage to the Japanese culture ABIOTIC are drawing from. Much of this influence is most visible during the softer or clean parts, such as the brooding keyboards on the title track. There are hints of melody in the riffs as well, but not of a particular Eastern character, just of a Death Metal one. ABIOTIC still loves their brutal slamming riffs punctuated by ripping blast beats, as heard on "Covered the Cold Earth". The mix of sheer brutality and melodic moments is more or less evenly balanced, however, with multiple lead breaks and the odd jumpy Technical Death Metal riff here and there.

My personal favorite tracks on the album are those where the band skews heavily towards the technical rather than the brutal side of Death Metal, like "Smoldered". There are so many floating, snaking, and leaping riffs that throw curveballs at the listener and fade back into the fabric of the song. Of course there are still blast beats and deep, cavernous vocals, but the jagged beauty of these riffs set against this backdrop defines perfect Death Metal for me. This kind of riffing always feels more exciting than constant chugging, as in the frenetic tapped arpeggios on "The Wrath". It's one of those rare times when a riff or a moment makes you stop and rewind to make sure you heard that right. Another great example is "Souvenir of Skin"; even though it starts harsh and pummeling, that ferocity is soon channeled into acrobatic, melodic riffs cobbled together into a maelstrom of musical excellence. The lead and the sweep picking section are particularly good examples of this.

ABIOTIC goes hard when they need to, bringing stomping, overwhelming force to bear on tracks like "If I Do Die", which apart from the slight keyboard interlude, rests on a foundation of marching, machine-gun blast beats from beginning to end. "Her Opus Mangled" is also a battering ram heralded by thunderous drumming and howling, demented vocals. And like I said earlier, the band's Japanese concept shines through predominantly during the clean sections; the only hint of something Eastern on "Her Opus Mangled" came during the soft interlude. The riffs, the drumming, and the lead work are all Death Metal in the absolute. That is not a bad thing since it is unquestionably well-written Death Metal, but I am curious to hear a band weave Japanese melody into aggressive metal riffing, the way ENSIFERUM or SUIDAKRA do for their respective cultures.

I do think ABIOTIC has made a great album regardless of how influenced by Japanese music it is or is not. They have always been able to write good riffs and be as brutal as brutal gets, but on Ikigai they also show off a talent for songwriting that is dynamic and captivating. For example, the fade out into the clean section of "Horadric Cube" and then the gradual layering of elements on top of the melody shows that the band understands pacing and how to build up to a moment. "Grief Eater, Tear Drinker" is a more traditional Technical Death Metal song, as much of an oxymoron as that may be, and assails listeners with catchy riffs and frenzied movement, which somehow manages to make sense. Songs like "Covered the Cold Earth" demonstrate carefully honed judgement over when to unleash hell and when to balance out the mayhem with dizzying riffs.

This is a good album and certainly worth listening to if you are a fan of any of ABIOTIC's earlier work. This also may be a good listen for those not fond of ABIOTIC as well, since it is certainly more experimental than what they have released in the past.

9 / 10

Almost Perfect








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"Ikigai" Track-listing:

1. Natsukashii
2. Ikigai
3. Covered the Cold Earth
4. Smoldered
5. The Wrath
6. If I Do Die
7. Souvenir of Skin
8. Her Opus Mangled
9. Horadric Cube
10. Grief Eater, Tear Drinker
11. Gyokusai

Abiotic Lineup:

Travis Bartosek - Vocals
John Matos - Guitar
Matt Mendez - Guitar
Kilian Duarte - Bass
Tony Lusk-Simone - Drums, backing vocals

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