Album Title: Sarcoma
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 28 May 2021
Ever heard of Alluvial? Well I hadn’t, not before I was offered the opportunity to review this album. Based on some research, I realised that the reason for this might have been because the debut album from this American entity, ‘The Deep Longing For Annihilation’, was an instrumental death metal affair predominantly brough to us by a guitar duo of Wes Hauch and Keith Merrow. As I’ve said many times in the past, I’m not immediately drawn to instrumental music, particularly instrumental extreme metal. So, however good it might have been, it just didn’t register on my radar back in 2017.
The reason I am reviewing ‘Sarcoma’, their second full-length release, though, is because Alluvial are a very different proposition than before. Gone is Keith Merrow, but in come three new musicians to turn Alluvial into what I might unfairly refer to as a ‘proper’ band. ‘Fully-fledged’ might be kinder, but you know what I mean. On the microphone, we have ex-Suffocation vocalist Kevin Muller, whilst behind the kit sits Matthew Paulazzo who has been involved with a myriad of other bands in the past, including Abiotic and live drums for The Black Dahlia Murder. That leaves Tim Walker as the final piece of the puzzle, bringing his bass to the Alluvial party. Together, they have created an album that has surprised me a great deal, in a positive manner too.
The core sound of the band sits within the realm of death metal, but there’s a progressive bent to the compositions on ‘Sarcoma’ as well as a pleasing amount of memorability, through snippets of melody, groove, intelligent musicianship, dark atmospheres, and the occasional variation in singing approach. I’m also delighted to be able to say that, despite the down-tuned guitars and inevitable chugging riffs, Alluvial just about avoid the deathcore and djent tags. There is no doubt that ‘Sarcoma’ has a contemporary edge to it, but by and large, they march to their own tune, to their credit.
It isn’t a concept album per se but, as hinted at through the album title, each track on ‘Sarcoma’, a cancer that exists within the connective tissues in the human body, deals with “the different perils that happen at the hand of one man to another. These perils live in our connections to one another…” It’s an interesting subject matter and certainly explains the dark overtones to the album, one that becomes more and more enjoyable over time.
The progressive nature of Alluvial’s music, as well as the heaviness is provided from the very outset, thanks to a top-drawer opening song in the form of ‘Ulysses’. The intro is actually quite melodic,albeit with a sinister edge, as echoed guitars build and swell, only to release into a brutal riff, savage drumming, and the venomous delivery of Kevin Muller. But the track offers some interesting time signatures and polyrhythms as it lurches, stops and starts, and generally tests one’s ability to headbang in time to the music. The injection of melody is very welcome as it counterpoints the brutality and technicality nicely, giving us a subtle hook upon which to return.
As beginnings to albums go, ‘Sarcoma’ is blessed with a strong one, as ‘Thy Underling’ immediately continues the high quality output. The opening riff is great, whilst the drumming and gurgling bass also add their own marks to good effect. The use of cleaner, soaring vocals calls to mind bands like Sylosis, but the exact reference point remains tantalisingly out of reach. Maybe it’s Enochian Theory I’m vaguely reminded of? Regardless, there’s a really nice epic, almost cinematic feel to the song, whilst we get some great solo lead guitar work to underline the fact that this isn’t an element that has completely died since the debut.
Is that jazz I can hear? I believe that it is, yes, as ’40 Stories’ kicks into existence. Complete with smooth, almost whispered vocals, it’s an intriguing passage that erupts into a properly atmospheric and melodic slab of extreme metal. But the great thing about this song is the way that it explodes but then retreats back into the jazz-infused shadows again, rather than maintain the heaviness throughout. This clever use of light and shade makes the track stronger and more enjoyable as a result, whilst demonstrating that Alluvial have more to their armoury than all out prog death attack.
I find ‘Zero’ incredibly disconcerting I must admit. It’s a short interlude piece that features the sounds of humans gasping for air and struggling to breathe. Certainly interesting, it’s nevertheless a track that I might skip if it wasn’t for the fact that it only lasts for a minute or so.
Such is the consistency of the album, that the remainder of the material flies by in the blink of an eye and I’m left wondering quite where the last 38 minutes of my life went. Picking out highlights within the latter stages of ‘Sarcoma’ leads me to mention ‘Sleepers Become Giants’ which starts off gently, not overly dissimilar to Pantera in my opinion, before launching into more bold melodic territory with a reprise of those soaring vocals, via some tight riffing and rhythm work. It’s also one of the most atmospheric compositions and I only wish it had a longer life than the three minutes the band give it.
‘The Putrid Sunrise’ provides us with some of the fastest material on the album, whilst the longest track, ‘Sugar Paper’ is also one of the most intriguing. The opening is smooth, with a certain calmness about it but as it progresses, the heaviness builds. The bridge between the intro and the much heavier second-half is an extended lead guitar solo that’s part shred and part mellifluous. I also can’t help but enjoy the lumbering, lurching guitar riffs that are accented by some of the tightest, fastest, and most uncompromising drumming to be heard from Paulazzo here.
One of the criticisms that is often aimed at death metal is that ‘it all sounds the same’ or that it’s ‘just noise’. Alluvial’s approach, though, is more nuanced than simply a half-hour bludgeoning session, during which time they demonstrate very capably, that there can be more to death metal. Yes it’s brutal and nasty in places, and yes, with it’s contemporary edge it does skirt close to djent here and there. But there’s also, importantly, a genuine progressive nature to the music to be heard, not to mention a welcome injection of melody and plenty of atmosphere, which provides an added depth that I have found to provide longevity and is really satisfying. I look forward to what comes next from Alluvial because I can sense there’s more to come. However, for a debut of sorts from this new line-up, ‘Sarcoma’ is an impressive beast.
The Score of Much Metal: 87%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: