Album Title: The Death Of Death
Label: Pelagic Records
Date of Release: 18 March 2022
With so much new music being thrust upon us these days, it was inevitable that I’d drop the ball at some point. And so it has come to pass here. Greek modern progressive metal band Playgrounded are the ones to suffer my poor attempts to keep up with the release schedule, with their sophomore album, ‘The Death Of Death’ released on 18th March. Not even the fact that they have been recently added to this year’s bill at ProgPower Europe was enough to ensure a large enough blip on my radar. It’s all the more worrying too, when the material accompanying the promo references Karnivool, Leprous, and Katatonia in the ‘for fans of’ references. Better late than never I say though, and hopefully I can make up for my faux pas with this review.
For those of you as unfamiliar with Playgrounded as I am, they are a Greek quintet comprised of vocalist Stavros Markonis, guitarist Michael Kotsirakis, bassist Odysseas Zafeiriou, drummer Giorgos Pouliasis, and Orestis Zafeiriou who handles the synth/sampling duties. They have been in existence for a number of years and have since relocated to The Netherlands, or as near as damn it, spending most of their time in Rotterdam these days.
Whilst I can hear the aforementioned references within the music that Playgrounded create, this only tells part of the story. That’s because one of the biggest elements to the band’s sound is that of the synths, samples, and electronic sounds. It leads to further references, to the likes of Nine Inch Nails and, from my perspective, some Soen and Tool, too. The latter of these references comes more though from the fact that the music I hear on ‘The Death Of Death’ has a hypnotic quality, with songs that threaten to release and explode, occasionally not following through on this promise, but always taking their time to unfold in just the way that the band want. It leads to a feeling of brooding intensity for large portions of this album, as well as a sense of drama as you’re never entirely sure about what’s coming next.
To add to the delay, ‘The Death Of Death’ has caused me my latest hint of writer’s block, as I’ve been wavering back and forth about what exactly to write. The silver lining to this though, is that I’ve listened to it an awful lot more than I’d planned to. And with that extra listening, has come a greater understanding of the music, and a greater appreciation too.
Playgrounded begin this record with a real statement of intent in the form of ‘The Swan’. Not only is it one of the more instantly memorable compositions but is the perfect showcase for what this five-piece are all about. It’s a heavy, brooding track that makes full use of the electronics, heavy riffs, and a delightful bass sound that is a clever accompaniment to Markonis’ superb voice, a voice that conveys emotion whilst being highly melodic. It’s here that the Soen and Katatonia references make more sense. There’s a great ebb and flow to the song too, as it explores minimalist electronic-led pastures as well as greater controlled explosions of power. The melodies are reasonably subtle, but so infectious once they dig their claws in.
The aim of Playgrounded’s music is, I think, to make the listener feel the material, and become immersed within its many rich and inviting layers; it’s an all-encompassing experience rather than just something you stick on for a cursory listen. It works on this level of course, but to get the full effect of ‘The Death Of Death’, you need to concentrate and give yourself over to the music. ‘Rituals’ is one of those songs, with its largely instrumental approach, that needs full attention to appreciate the technicality at play within the rhythms and the layers of sound. The more closely you listen, the more impressive this rather hypnotic track becomes, especially the churning, roiling sounds that fill the final minute or two with barely-contained power.
The title track is simply immense from beginning to end. As with the entire album, the tone is dark, sombre, and with an edge of malevolence to it; this isn’t happy progressive music by any stretch of the imagination. The almost staccato guitar work is a real strength, driving the track along and acting as the foil to the striking electronics used, particularly in the more minimalist recesses of the song. Again, the melodies are used very subtly but after several spins, they are as addictive as hell, and bittersweet in feel, the kind that I really like and heavily remind me of more recent Katatonia, especially when coupled with Markonis’ smooth, clean vocals.
A shorter song, ‘Tomorrow’s Rainbow’ has a slightly raised tempo and greater sense of urgency to it, not to mention more of an air of positivity if my ears don’t deceive. ‘A Road Out Of The Flood’ returns to familiar climes with crushing riffs, possibly some of the heaviest to be heard on the record. It also feels more ‘progressive’ too, thanks to the interesting rhythms utilised and, if it’s possible, even more overt electronics. The great thing though, is that the same sounds are rarely used from song to song, meaning that each track has a different identity whilst not being so different as to deviate from the overall tone of the record. This is an impressive feat, and one that shouldn’t go unnoticed – this attention to detail deserves proper appreciation that’s for sure.
At just shy of forty minutes in length, ‘The Death Of Death’ is a great length, and means that fatigue never sets in. In fact, I could happily enjoy another track to join the six, such is the quality on offer. ‘Our Fire’ is the last composition, and it’s another spellbinding, hypnotic, and addictive affair. It starts off in a lurching, lumbering fashion, but builds elegantly, once again the bass of Odysseas Zafeiriou playing a pivotal role. And in the final stages, there’s a wonderfully placed outpouring of dramatic sound, before the song quietly recedes back into the gloom.
I really find it tough to find much fault with this sophomore release from Playgrounded. At best, I could say that the album is a slow burner, with little in terms of pronounced tempo variety. But this is being disingenuous because there’s so much going on within the songs and, after a few spins, the music really gets to me regardless. So instead of trying to find fault where little exists, I’ll just say that ‘The Death Of Death’ is a highly accomplished body of work, that only suggests even better to come from this exciting band. Best I get my arse in gear and buy a ticket to ProgPower Europe this year too, because I can only imagine just how incendiary and immersive the live show will be from Playgrounded.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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