Released: 2014, Eone Music
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Massachusetts tech deathsters Within The Ruins didn't waste any time delivering a follow-up to their third album, Elite. Phenomena arrives just over a year after Elite dropped, and while these days – when two-year intervals between albums is considered brief - that usually means rushed and sloppy, it's the complete opposite here.
Phenomena tidies up some of the band's earlier technical indulgences and deathcore propensities, along with a number of other things - a bit too much, in fact. It delivers more of a math-metal/djent vibe, with its rigid riffing, mechanized and quite pronounced bottom end and twitchy guitar flourishes that flit about your ears like that damn fly you bat at forever but can never seem to kill.
Guitarist Joe Cocchi and bassist Andrew Tate work in thick, thunderous drop-tuned harmony here to approach the mythic “brown sound” on a number of occasions, even on the limber instrumental “Enigma” whose stutter-step histrionics recall the code from which the song may or may not take its name. The instrumental “Ataxia III” that closes the album takes the same approach.
The arrangements on most of the material are still relatively complex, but they also are concise and numbingly precise to a fault. Everything seems too perfect. The band's performance is almost robotic at times - Kevin “Drummer” McGuill's drumming feels more machine than man - with some songs having an oddly cut-and-paste sequential quality about them, take “Calling Card” for instance. And the production, though loud and clear, is sterile and cold.
And that's a shame because a looser take on much of this stuff would have really made it come alive – especially the aforementioned instrumentals, which have a jazz-like playfulness that largely gets snuffed out by the heavyhanded, science lab-like studio treatment. The same can be said for the stronger melodic presence, especially in some of the choruses when frontman Tim Goergen is less shouty, and electronic tinges that could have given Phenomena some genuine character.
Elite, and those that came before it, may have been a bit wanky or belligerent, but they also had some soul. Phenomena, though certainly spunky and unquestionably heavy, is clinical and overprocessed, with the music seemingly chopped into bits and melded back together like metal McNuggets. Something more organic and natural, even if it was a bit scruffier, would certainly have been more palatable.