Overall Score: 7/10 Performances: 8/10 Songwriting: 7/10 Technical Ability: 10/10 Pros: An undeniable mastery of instruments | Songs balance the melodic and the ridiculously heavy with panache Cons: Perhaps too delightfully silly for more serious listeners | A few melodies have a clashing nicety to them
Overt technicality is a staple of some forms of extreme music. It generally occurs when the prefix “tech” is added to a band’s subgenre of choice, but does rear its head in most death and black metal. There is an argument to be made that being able to play blistering runs of hundreds of notes per second comes at the expense of songwriting, impressive though it may be. Bands like Animals as Leaders trade in this seemingly endless well of technical proficiency, as do Dying Fetus and Allegaeon, but certainly for the latter two, penning a good song is the prime directive. On which side of the skillful fence do Rings of Saturn sit, and how does the apparent dichotomy between virtuosity and songwriting mesh on fifth album, Gidim?
The opening notes of Pustules (feat. Charles Caswell of Berried Alive) are able to communicate a base level of aggression with an immediacy necessary for the genre. Caswell’s vocal performance in conjunction with Rings of Saturn’s own Ian Bearer elevates the song beyond a collection of ideas to being a cohesive and well structured narrative. This penchant for construction of songs is present across the vast majority of the album, with Hypodermis Glitch (feat. Dan Watson of Enterprise Earth) standing as the first majorly impressive example of coherent songwriting. This is not to discredit the two songs preceding Hypodermis… It is simply the moment that the wheels snap into motion and the album explodes with the aplomb fans have come to expect of Rings of Saturn.
Mastermind and founding member, Lucas Mann, has said of this album that while he is pleased with the results of previous and heavily melodic predecessor, Ultu Ulla, Gidim ‘is a return to Rings of Saturn’s roots. The fan favourite parts of Dingir and Lugal Ki En have been considered for inclusion and expansion’ on this latest offering. This intention certainly rings true with the end result as Gidim toes the line between melody and mind altering technicality cautiously. More often than not successfully. The melodic breaks for blistering guitar runs in Bloated and Stiff are the most straightforward the album gets, and subsequently the most harmonious and pleasing on the ear. However, melody and pleasure are not states in which Rings have made their name, so this feels somewhat jarring in amongst the brutality of the overall sound, nice as they may be. This nicety extends into Mental Prolapse which begins with a sugary sweet guitar phrase that is quickly juxtaposed by the heavy riffing of the breakdown. It’s just a touch too disparate for its own good.
Mann is certainly an innovative guitarist. Playing mainly in diminished phrases of his own invention – a combination of existing scale structures and whole tone arpeggios – the musicianship of Mann and his compatriots cannot be understated. From a purely technical standpoint, this is one of the best albums of the year. The addition of shred phenome, Yo Onityan adds a dimension of the bombast of power metal to the final bars of Tormented Conciseness, and achieves a satisfyingly different flavour in amongst the technical wizardry and pummelling intensity. The speed of The Husk sets a precedent for the latter half of the record, with a beats per minute count surely in the two hundreds for around twenty minutes. This is an exhausting listen for a new comer to Rings of Saturn, but for old stalwarts Gidim is the perfect halfway house in their distinct experimental styles found in prior records. Perhaps a touch over-performed, this album cannot be knocked for a lack of mastery of its instruments, and it delights in the daftness of its own concept. They’re aiming for stratospheric heights, and with some tweaking and refining, they might just get there.
Gidim, the new album from Rings of Saturn, is out via Nuclear Blast Records on 25th October 2019.