Sunday, November 11, 2012

Neuraxis - The Thin Line Between

The world needs more melodic technical death bands. That’s why Neuraxis is here. Neuraxis is almost ALWAYS described as being a “melodic technical death” band due to their colorful melodies that are laid out in an extremely complex fashion. Here’s a disclaimer: melodic does not mean any less heavy and energetic. Neuraxis are more than brutal enough to satisfy ANY tech death fan, but they’ve let in some melodic influences to add their own unique twist. I don’t have all of their albums, but I do have most of them. After about seven months of listening to them, I can now say that The Thin Line Between is by far the most entertaining and addicting record in the Neuraxis discography. The majority of the success and status that Neuraxis has achieved is more-or-less just amongst the tech death community. Whenever they go on big tours, they’re almost always (unfortunately) one of the first opening acts. But despite the fact that most of their headlining shows were strictly in Canada and that their sales have remained marginal, Neuraxis has done a hell of a job of making a name for themselves as being one of the much better technical death bands out there in the world.

Although some of their sound has come out of pure experimentation, Neuraxis has cited both melodic death and thrash metal as being huge influences on their sound. Honestly, The Thin Line Between is where the thrash metal part of that statement speaks out the most. The intro of the first track, Darkness Prevails, reminds me STRONGLY of the Exodus songs Raze and Riot Act (more so Raze than the latter). Because the drums are where most of the action is at, let’s start with them. Tommy McKinnon, who made his Neuraxis debut on Trilateral Progression in 2005 after being a live drummer for them on tour, is who I think should be noted as the most talented musician on this record. His extremely technical thrash metal drumming style is what gives this album a lot of the unique twist that it has. For example, most of the speed is played through the kick drums and occasional blast beats. What do I love most about him? He’s not excessively fast and technical like SO many other tech death drummers are! Even many of the best technical death bands EVER have excessively chaotic drummers. I’m not saying that being over-technical and fast is a bad thing, because oftentimes it fits the music. But when you flip through the individual tech death drummers in your collection, almost all of them don’t express very much tempo variety (i.e. Fleshgod Apocalypse, The Black Dahlia Murder, Arsis, Origin, etc.)

This is why it’s nice to just fucking chill out for a bit and have drumming with more varied tempos like The Faceless, Atheist, and Martyr. Tommy acts as a refresher for us metalheads by giving us a piece of music where the drumming in the verses have more experimentation where needed, machine gun kick drumming where needed, and pummeling blast beats where needed; instead of just one or two of those. Some would point that out and assume that it’s because the drummer doesn’t possess enough skill to play as fast as Fleshgod Apocalyspe, but they would be wrong. Tommy wipes those kind of assumptions off the board by writing and playing PLENTY of fills in just about every song that sound like random explosions of blasting technicality; whether it be just in the kick drums, a blast beat, or something completely different. There is just one problem that I have with the drums, which isn’t as much of a problem with the drummer as is it with Jef Fortin, the guy who mixed and produced the album. The problem is that the drums are just WAY too loud. Those of you that have read my reviews in the past know that I LOVE kick drums that have a meaty, bass-filled sound that just pounds you into the pavement. Well, this is an example of what I love being a LITTLE excessive. I’m not kidding, the kick drums (and the whole drum set really) just overpower EVERYTHING. I shouldn’t have to cite certain tracks or examples because this applies to the entire album. Other than that fuck-up that lasts for the duration of the album, the drumming is absolutely fantastic.

The vocals are mediocre. Unique; but mediocre. I like how the really…however you want to describe it…I don’t know how to describe them. The really deep, but not crisp growls fit the music great, but I would rather that they had more of a punch to them. Don’t know what I mean? Listen to the growls on any of the three albums by The Faceless. The growls are deep, powerful, crisp, and punch you square in the fucking face. I can definitely see those fitting in Neuraxis’ music PERFECTLY. But, since I like to stick to reality, I’m aware that the vocals are not like The Faceless and that we’re going to have to make the best out of them instead of whining. I’m aware that there are some guest vocals on three of the songs, but I can’t really hear them; all of the vocals on this album sound like they’re coming from the same guy. Because I didn’t catch Sepultura when they toured with Keep of Kalessin, Hate, Belphegor, Bonded by Blood, and Neuraxis, I don’t really know if the growls are any good live or not (and no, live videos on YouTube aren’t the same as seeing them live in person). If you’ve seen Neuraxis live, let me know what you thought of the vocals by dropping a comment, because I’m curious to know.

Guitars in technical death usually take place as the single most dominant instrument. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing; I’m just stating the fact because in The Thin Line Between, they’re not. No, having the most technicality and volume doesn’t always mean that you’re the dominant instrument on an album. For example, in just about every Decapitated album, the guitars are obviously the loudest instrument, but really, the drums are where most of the action is. In both of Augury’s albums, the bass is the main driving force, even though it’s neither the loudest OR the most technical (yes, I know Augury isn’t a tech death band, but I thought they would be a good example to point out in this context). Speaking of bass, where is the bass on this album? I mean, I can HEAR that there is bass (even when you remove the overpowering kick drums), but I can BARELY hear the bass guitar unless there’s a really quiet part like in the instrumental track, Stranding Despite.

I mean, isn’t the bassist more important in technical death (for some odd reason) than in most other death metal variations? I can hear the extremely loud guitars and drums just fine, and I can mostly hear the vocals when they’re not getting drowned out by the drums, so what the fuck is going on with the bassist? After going back through their older material (this time focusing on the bassist), the only album where I can hear the bassist more than 20% of the time is on Imagery, which was released in 1997. Ok, so it looks like this isn’t as much of a problem because since the band has had over a fucking decade to fix it, they obviously want it that way. This THEN brings up the question: is the bassist really not playing as important of a part as what I was expecting? Considering the fact that the bassist on this album was the only remaining original member, this explains why the bass is much more interesting in their 2011 album than the rest of their discography.

The Thin Line Between is a fantastic technical death album. Pulling in extensive influences from melodic death and thrash metal, Neuraxis adds another chapter to what I would consider to be a very interesting and unique collection of artworks. Experimentation with acoustic guitars, keyboards, and deep melodies take place in almost every song. This album has many downsides, but they don’t even begin to compare with the power of what’s good about The Thin Line Between. A quick trivial fact about this album is that this was the last album to have ANY original members on it. The following year, the last remaining original member (bassist Yan Thiel) departed from the band. I would highly recommend this to fans of tech death, thrash metal, and the heavier melodic death fans out there. This album gets my score of 14/20.