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New review by - 4,5/5 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jimmy B   
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 19:44
Hey all, sorry for my prolonged absence - extracurricular responsibilities, you know how it is. Anyway, here is my next long-awaited (at least by me) review: Manifests of Human Existence, a very tasty slice of prog-tech death from little-known Greeks Echidna (nothing to do with the Australian animal, as I discovered - actually the 'Mother of All Monsters' in Greek mythology). This one caught me completely off-guard, as it is an extremely accomplished, mature and well-executed album, all the more astonishing given that it is the band's debut! This is the sort of thing I really love about metal; how something you've never heard of can come along and just totally blow you away, barely giving you time to catch your breath before the compulsion sets in to listen to it again, and again, and lots more after that. Commence review!
Probably the closest reference point I could provide would be Floridian legends Death, specifically their Human/Individual Thought Patterns era - however, there is so much more to this, that you really have to listen to it to get an accurate idea. One can detect elements of Opeth, Cynic, At the Gates - but importantly, Echidna take these influences and create something wholly unique, their very own twisted death metal vision. Opener 'Whispers' lurches erratically out of the gate, setting the tone for what is to follow, before breaking into a superb melodeath riff and proceeding to destroy all in its path thereafter. I found several of the acoustic interludes peppered throughout the album to be somewhat reminiscent of Opeth, in their exquisite construction and delivery; there are also some traditional instruments put to intriguing use, particularly toward the end of album highlight 'Dogma of Cain', where a folky accordion-type sound leads into an interesting voice sample (something about achieving a higher plane of existence, etc). Needless to say, though, this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
The album chugs along nicely, the first four tracks kicking ass, exceeding expectations, and generally providing tech-death boners; but, yes, you guessed it, it gets better. The stunningly original and simply awesome 'Tractatus Cerebri' trilogy follows, coming out of even further left field than one might reasonably expect. How a supposed nobody-band can create music this incredible on their debut album is beyond me; still, here it is, and I'm certainly not complaining. Act I of this trilogy, cryptically entitled 'To Be', essentially plays the role of prologue to the other two parts - but even in and of itself, it is an engrossing listen, demanding your full attention for all of its two-minute running time. The alarm-like guitar noises that enter about halfway through create an eerie atmosphere, and the ensuing polyrhythmic stomping riff provides a distinctly chaotic and unsettling effect. Act II, named 'Driven Into' - hang on, I'm detecting a theme here - begins with a deliciously off-kilter beat, that the bass and guitar soon join in a twisted cacophony that delights in its own originality. The track that follows is easily the most "normal" part of the trilogy, but under the circumstances, that isn't saying much; it still defies what you think you know about death metal, and tells you how it's gonna be. The final act, 'A Twisted State of Mind' (ah, there it is), is the real surprise packet here though, providing an epilogue in the form of electronic trip-hop beats, dramatic piano tinklings, and even a bit of organ - which, despite itself, works wonderfully well, and closes out the trilogy in true style. This is a piece of music that can work as separate pieces, but it is as a whole that it really shines. I find myself coming back to this quite often, and enjoying it more and more every time I hear it.
'The Pendulum' begins the final third of the album, and it is a monster of a track - intense Death-like riffage, replete with DiGiorgio-esque bass noodling, provides the basis for the bulk of the song, and it only gets better from there (excluding the slightly-too-long ambient outro). 'Human Serpent', along with the earlier 'Grieving Silence' are probably the closest this band get to performing conventional death metal, but as you might expect at this point, they do it extremely well, and with more than a few experimental flourishes to boot. Album closer 'At Fathomless Depths' recalls classic Dissection in its title, but there the similarities end - while it has its faster, growly moments, this track is all about creating and maintaining a discomfiting atmosphere; suffice to say it succeeds. A video has been made for this track, which can be seen on Echidna's website, as well as their MySpace (see links below), which makes for some interesting viewing - at this stage, however, I would say it's mostly a fan-only affair.
Greece has provided the metal world with some interesting denizens over the years (Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh) and Echidna can certainly count themselves among that number with this release. Time will tell whether they can build and improve upon this already-impressive formula (if it can be called that), but I'll be happy if they manage to release anything close to this good, let alone top it. Obviously, highly recommended to any metalheads who love a bit of existentialism with their death in the morning.
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