Ah, yes. The blood-soaked, often ice-cold lands of the Japanese isles. Rich in history and home to many a myth, martial arts, and intricate rules that are hard to fathom by our mushy Western minds.
It is with this somber world of ninjas and samurais, bloody battles, and bloodthirsty monsters that the undead of Abiotic hit our review pipe. And hit it hard with a Tech Death piece that made us sit up straight after the first few beats.
That’s pretty unusual, by the way. Our relationship with this genre has always been contentious at best. Because quite often, bands use it to generate metal that proves way too complicated for its own good. And this just – well – because they can. Good for them, but some of that gets way too far into the overwrought eclectic department to be really interesting.
Now, the RMR deck crew here remembers Abiotic more for some fantastical alien schemes. And less so for paying tribute to some Japanese live better theory like Ikigai. Which largely means something like reason or joy for being. They have a few of those concepts in Japan. And some of them – this one included – are the target of pretty shameless exploits by consultancy firms and coaching ‘experts’ to make a ton of money off businesses and individuals.1)
And maybe it was the first two tracks or the somewhat desperate Samurai with the trademark red sun on the cover that drew us first. We’re not quite sure anymore. Because the record does its best to pound you into the dust for a pretty lengthy 50 minutes of highly fractalized Technical Death Metal.
Now first off, Ikigai lures you into some sort of a treacherous sense of peace Natsukashii generates. Only to brutally interrupt this reviewer’s Zen meditation with a harsh piece of steely metal that usually lives in the land of dissonance. And it’s cleanly done, by the Japanese old gods. So much so that the title track that follows gets you that hot ‘n’ cold treatment of brutal blast beats, wild, muted riffs, fierce rasps, and soothing ambient acoustics.
And already now you get that sense of an outstanding technical prowess that Abiotic relentlessly throw at you like a fucking Japanese kitchen sink. If that makes any sense. That said, the whole record is testament to a pretty outstanding production that I had difficulty finding fault with.
And here it also began to dawn on the crew that Abiotic played us. The brand of Ikigai they project has nothing to do with well-being, green tea, and genteel rice cakes. On the contrary, the record bitches about – and I quote “… pain, grief, desperation, and perseverance.” And all this is observed through the sightless eyes of a dying Samurai who watches his entrails leak into the ground after committing seppuku under a blood-red sun.
Hai! That’s quite a feat, I give them that. Yet, they didn’t navigate this stony path alone. Their list of guest musicians reads like a banzai charge of the weird. A who’s who of present-day metallists who added their grain of savoir-faire into that fray of bloodied metal shards, jazz elements, bizarre solos, and traditional instruments.
And yet again, you feel nothing of that overload that often sets in when bands try to beef up quality with outsiders. Instead, each interpreter carefully embeds into his very own track that – again – artfully tells a part of the story. How very Ikigai, there’s a reason for them to get up in the morning.
In other words, this band selected guests to serve the narrative and not to profit from other people’s often considerable musical prowess. And that is yet another pillar that adds to the allure of the record.
Yet, once the first three tracks or so are over, the record suddenly loses steam somewhat. Not in technical quality, but in innovation and – I daresay – freshness. In essence, Abiotic reverses to a level other tech death pros are at. And continue to do so like a lumbering freight train that bores down that tunnel to a destination unknown. Even if there’s some redemption in tracks like Horadric Cube or Her Opus Mangled.
Well, hells bells. Ikigai wasn’t an easy thing to digest nor to review.2) And truly so, sometimes this record felt like a weird incarnation of Fleshgod Apocalypse on technical steroids. One that just moved East to inspect bloodied battlefields and the treacherous depths of the human psyche.
Yet, in the end, Ikigai delivers an avalanche of pretty outstanding modern Technical Death Metal. A piece that finally garnered the grudging praise of a grouchy bunch of non-believers in all things tech death. And that, folks, is quite a feat.