Reviewed: [April 2019]
Released: [2019, The Artisan Era]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Though its much more well known as the very heart of the country music universe, Tennessee has got a surprising vibrant metal underground that has occasionally birthed some acts into the mainstream – notably metalcore mavens Memphis May Fire, Christian powerhouses Skillet and Knoxville-based behemoths Whitechapel who bring the bludgeon like nobody’s business.
On the tech-death end of things there once was the mapcap Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza, whose mathcore bona fides belied their jokey name. They split, however, in 2012, after four mind-blowing albums. But Nashville’s Inferi have come along to nicely fill the breach. After a period of relative inactivity, the band have been making some genuine waves over the past few years on the strength of their last two albums, 2014’s The Path to Apotheosis and last year’s Revenant.
Even as Inferi have gathered strength, though, there has been turbulence, with the bulk of the band’s lineup having turned over since 2017. Similar tumult after Inferi’s first two albums was a likely reason for a five-year stretch from 2009-2014 the yielded but a two-song demo. But things seem stable enough at the moment that the band’s current lineup is taking a trip in the WABAC Machine to revisit their second album, The End of An Era – on which only guitarist/lone original member Malcolm Pugh performed when it was issued a decade ago.
According to its press materials, the release is aimed at bridging the gap between the band’s initial melodic death metal-centered style and the more tech/symphonic death framework of Apotheosis and Revenant. The result is something that resembles The Black Dahlia Murder at warp speed. The melodic and classic metal flourishes are there, but with a Red Bull-fueled sense of manic energy that carries over from Revenant – even if only two members of the current lineup, Pugh and longtime guitarist Mike Low, played on that album.
With the double bass rolls, blasts and spray-gun fills of drummer Spencer Moore leading the way, and the bass lines Andrew King providing a fluid bottom end, Inferi hurtle along at a breakneck pace much of the way as new vocalist Stevie Boiser (Equipoise, ex of Vale of Pnath) screeches and shrieks for all he’s worth. That alone might might have made for an out of control mess, Pugh and Lowe’s fleet guitar work also offers sleek, nimble harmonies and quick hitting hooks that not only add an almost elegant flair, but tie everything together and give it some genuine teeth.
So much tech death is all show and no substance, but here the songs feel like a complete package, not just a sum of various parts. They might not boast the clever choruses or more streamlined composing that make the aforementioned Black Dahlia so great, but tunes like “The Endless Siege” or “A New Breed of Savior” and “The War Machine Embodiment” – with their Maiden-like twin leads and tradeoffs – will definitely stick with you.
And though the musicianship here is top notch, the band rarely resort to showiness or over indulgence – the nearly nine-minute instrumental “The Warrior’s Infinite Opus” being the one obvious exception. But by largely avoiding the temptation to keep piling on, Inferi offer a relatively tidy outing with Era, especially by modern tech-death standards. The more contemporary production also gives the old material some added heft, yet without making it too pristine or clinical.
As it was self-released back in the day, it wouldn’t seem that many people were likely to have heard The End of An Era on the first go-round. And as Inferi go about building – or rebuilding ,as the case may be – an audience with the new material, redoing/re-issuing the album does make sense. It gives fans a taste of where the band’s sonic legacy was born, but offers a better package all the way around. So win-win.