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Allegaeon - "Formshifter" (CD)

Allegaeon - "Formshifter" CD cover image

"Formshifter" track listing:

1. Behold (God I Am)
2. Tartessos: The Hidden Xenocryst
3. A Path Disclosed
4. Iconic Images
5. Twelve
6. The Azrael Trigger
7. From The Stars Death Came
8. Timeline Dissonance
9. Formshifter
10. Secrets Of The Sequence

Reviewed by on April 26, 2012

"Striking in its dual ability to fully honor its predecessor while surpassing it through sheer ambition backed by confident control."

Unlike the surprise hit 2010 debut “Fragments Of Form And Function,” Allegaeon’s sophomore album begins with a deceitful whisper and steady, labored breathing that builds to an archangelic roar. Creamy, fluid guitar harmonies ease smoothly into an explosion of distortion, a staccato jackhammer, and finally, a towering, monolithic blast beat. What better title for such an opener than “Behold (God I Am)?”

In the two years since Metal Blade properly introduced this extreme outfit from Fort Collins, Colorado, no metal nerd has successfully reconciled them with today’s obnoxious “sub-sub-subgenre” categorization fetish. Like a rubber ducky pushed beneath the surface in a full tub, other influences pop right up when one’s back is turned and the band is comfortably labeled. Tech-death, melodic death, progressive, groove, shred – “Fragments” had it all, and then some. “Formshifter” is that most enviable of follow-ups: stylistically and structurally familiar, yet evolved and improved from within. This is as natural a growth record as you’re likely to encounter this year, and an insanely catchy one to boot.

Like “The Godfather Part II,” “Formshifter” is striking in its dual ability to fully honor its predecessor while surpassing it through sheer ambition backed by confident control. “Fragments” necessarily showcased an obvious range of capability, where the intense virtuosity of Nevermore (“Across The Folded Line”) coexisted with the thrashing rage of Rob Dukes-fronted Exodus (“Biomech”). Nearly every track came with its own stamp of influence – “Hey, check out everything we can do!” Here, Allegaeon retains those influences while strategically peppering them throughout the album, rather than condensing them to a track’s running time. The unifying backbone of “Formshifter” is the churning, groovy gallop that powered the Amon Amarth-inspired “The God Particle” and the Devildriver-esque “Point Of Disfigurement” on the debut. “Tartessos: The Hidden Xenocryst,” “Twelve,” “The Azrael Trigger,” “Timeline Dissonance,” “Secrets Of The Sequence,” and the title track all see their 2010 progenitors and raise them on a technical level, resembling America’s defiant, riff-laden answer to Scar Symmetry.

The sound of this record is massive – overwhelming, even – thanks in large part to bassist Corey Archuleta and session drummer JP Andrade, who handles the epic footwork of Nile and Fleshgod Apocalypse (“Behold, God I Am”) and the beefy modern thrash of Darkane (“From The Stars Death Came”) with an unquestioned mastery only suggested by former kit man Jordon Belfast. His subtler, more complex touch on “A Path Disclosed” and “Iconic Images” complements the best creative offerings from dueling guitarists Ryan Glisan and Greg Burgess – the latter of whom flaunts his classical training by tacking nearly three full minutes of mesmerizing acoustic work onto the rear end of “Twelve.” It’s the perfect unexpected respite; an earthy, Old-World throwback amidst a swarm of futuristic precision, a quiet breather before frontman Ezra Haynes gets back up in your face to harangue you with his sandpaper growl. Altogether, this music can heal as easily and effectively as it can bruise.

More so than previously, “Formshifter” reveals Allegaeon’s only serious (potential) weakness, which ironically happens to be a major strength: their unbounded technical capacity. Being a “band for musicians” comes with a great deal of dreary baggage; hanging from the very reputation such a band carves for itself. Intense, prickly, nerd-level scrutiny on the placing of every note, solo, fill, and tempo shift tends to dampen the excitement of simply banging your head to some amazing metal (I imagine Chuck Schuldiner constantly spinning in his grave, vainly trying to swan dive off the lofty pedestal on which he’s been placed). Regardless, if being “too good for your own good” is your worst problem, you’re doing pretty well. “Formshifter” is one of the year’s best American metal albums, and Allegaeon’s benchmark for future work.

Highs: More memorable riffs and inventive lead work, a ballsier rhythm section, and a sweeping, expanded uniformity of sound.

Lows: The band's expert command of needle's-eye technicality will inevitably, for some, make the album a musician's homework assignment rather than the headbanging joy it's meant to be.

Bottom line: The vanguard of extreme metal in America today.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

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)