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Cyaegha - "Steps of Descent" (CD)

Cyaegha - "Steps of Descent" CD cover image

"Steps of Descent" track listing:

1. Ulthar's Decree
2. Mask in Flesh
3. While Sarnath Lies Desolate
4. From the Depths
5. Obductio Sapienata
6. Epiphany of R'lyeh
7. Postmortem Enlightenment
8. Logos Immolated
9. Fuck-Start My Dinner

Reviewed by on October 23, 2008

"A dense and harrowing thirty-minute trip through the fire."

There's no good reason why it's so thrilling to hear atonal, pummeling songs about people getting their arms and legs ripped off. It would be pretty hard to explain Cyaegha's appeal to the old-school Sinatra fans at your local rest home, but they're no exception to the rule that good death metal keeps you uneasy. Their debut LP, "Steps of Descent," is a dense and harrowing thirty minute trip through the fire. Though it's marred by a few problems common to technical death metal, it fully succeeds within the genre's boundaries, and Cyaegha could bring in more than a few converts with their surprisingly tight interplay and meaty take on classic tech-death songwriting. This is a solid, forward-looking first effort from a young band that's still evolving and gradually learning to push their style in unexpected directions.

An absolutely wicked guitar tone is the first thing that keeps Cyaegha from falling to the middle of the pack. The melodies are always expressive and colorful, even as they're played double time and scarily intense. A few of Cyaegha's songs trip into death metal songwriting clich├ęs, such as the repetitive machine grind of "Logos Immolated" near the album's end, but the richly nasty guitar and choppy, off-kilter blast beats always keep "Steps of Descent" from getting boring. Matt Wells' drum kit is frequently mixed as a lead instrument, and his diverse arsenal of rhythms and fills justifies this completely. He gets extra props, and a special throne in Hell, for being one of the few brave warriors to integrate cowbell into their death metal drum lines.

And like almost all good death metal, "Steps of Descent" is completely disorienting. It's not like they came up with that idea, but they're willing to tear into some of the year's most labyrinthine compositions, with deft and shifting rhythms constantly undercutting one another. In particular, "Epiphany of R'lyeh" has some beautiful instrumental passages, where Mike Tweed's breakneck, stinging slap bass jitters around and trades places with Steve Redmond's guitar. "Mask in Flesh" is also dominated by slap bass and dizzying guitar runs, sounding quite like the mighty Agiel. On the other side of the netherworld, "Obductio Sapienata" is by far the most experimental track here, a creepy low-key instrumental led by quick, crawling organ phrases.

It's usually pointless to slam extreme metal for having bad lyrics (after all, nobody listens to them) but in this case, "Steps of Descent" is a concept album based around the demonic dream universes in HP Lovecraft's fiction. The lyrics have literary pretensions, but no substance to back them up. With the common metal fault of being too overwrought and pseudo-literate, they line up ten dollar words like a polysyllabic shish kebab. (Folks, it's "decadence" -- you don't need to say "decadency.") At this point in their careers, Cyaegha aren't half weird or atmospheric enough to evoke any Lovecraftian cosmic terror or sense of doom. This is one concept album that doesn't use its own concept, although it's not really hurt by its pretensions. After all, nobody listens to death metal for the lyrics, and any of these four guys could have shattered Lovecraft's tweedy glass chin in less time than it takes to say "Postmortem Enlightenment."

Cyaegha haven't yet served up anything as groundbreaking as their influences, but as a first album, "Steps of Descent" demonstrates their abundant talent and understanding of extreme metal techniques. They have the rest of their careers to change the genre of technical death from inside.

Highs: Rock-solid, and impressive musicianship -- they know how death metal ought to work.

Lows: There's not much here to define them as a unique band.

Bottom line: A fun and challenging release from a hungry new band.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)