Climbing, spiral riffs that seem to ascend into the heavens are what greets you, the listener, upon first hitting play on Virulent Depravity‘s latest output, the excellent and epic Fruit of the Poisoned Tree. Possibly the only band that is capable of being compared and contrasted against the sadly now-defunct Spawn of Possession, Virulent Depravity are technical wizards equally able to create cacophony and beautiful passages. They are true masters of their instruments and this is more than apparent from only a few moments of listening to this release. Listing themselves as only a three piece, it leads me to wonder how they can create such an impenetrable wall of sound, giving a whole new meaning to the old descriptive term “power trio”.
The first song “Serpentine Messiah” is a stellar way to start an album, the ascending riffs sound calculated and cold and it makes for a creepy, tense atmosphere. Eerie and captivating, the instrumentation seems to move in and around itself creating mind-blowing displays of fingerwork. This same style of climbing, calculated riffing accompanied by mid-paced drums reappears for the track “Desecrating Eden”, which also happens to contain some of the albums best bass lines. In fact it’s a shame that the bass isn’t just a smidge higher in the mix because the playing and bass lines are phenomenal too, yet they are barely audible against the monstrous guitar tones a lot of the time. The drums are not only mixed perfectly, but in my opinion, are some of the best sounding drums on a technical death metal record I have ever heard, in terms of mix, balance, clarity and playing consistency.
One thing that you can rest assured of is that releases on The Artisan Era are going to look and sound good, so you can take that to heart when considering a purchase because these guys take pride in every aspect of their releases. A younger label with a handful of acts, The Artisan Era is sure to give other established underground metal labels like Unique Leader and Willowtip some healthy competition. In fact, I am certain that this release is as good as anything Relapse Records, Metal Blade or Earache have ever put out in their multi-decade spanning existences.
Fruit of the Poisoned Tree is not to be taken lightly and at first I feared it was too much for even this seasoned metal fan, so be forewarned that this album may overwhelm at first but assuredly becomes more digestible with each subsequent spin. Every time I listen to this album I find something else to love about it or a song will strike me in a different way depending on my mood. “Only Human” is a great example of a song that I am absolutely obsessed with as I currently write this review and yet it didn’t grab me on my first two or three spins. I don’t think it’s because the song isn’t good, I think it’s because everything here is so good that you really need ample amounts of time to take it all in and process what is being heard.
Fans of Severed Saviour, Necrophagist, Cryptopsy, Enfold Darkness and Spawn of Possession will have a found a new favourite band and possibly even a new favourite release with Virulent Depravity and Fruit of the Poisoned Tree. The precision and nuance that encompasses the playing on this record is mind-shattering and just might have a few budding guitarists questioning themselves and asking “why bother?” – that’s how stellar the performances are on this album. It sounds as though each member of the band plays with remarkable proficiency and an uncapped/unmatched energy level. If every musician and/or band out there put this much conviction into their own art the world be a better place for all of us, littered by creative masterpieces that inspire.
A recent newcomer to the work of Malcolm Pugh, I had been tipped off to his projects some time ago by my friend Austin, a fellow reviewer with excellent taste, who had stated that the man was only involved in high grade work. No kidding. Pugh might just be North America’s greatest contribution to the modern technical metal scene and one of the best guitarists/composers I have heard in over twenty-five years of listening to music (more than twenty of that spent listening to metal). The guitar tones are vibrant and stinging and his ferocity comes through in his intricate, yet heartfelt playing. Just listen to the final track “Crushed by Futuristic Filth” which seems to re-trace all the ground covered in the previous nine tracks; It is both calculated and cold as well as soulful and heartfelt. The jazzy piano outro is also stunning and something I doubt you are going to hear on many death metal records ever.
Fans of technical death metal will not be disappointed by this album full of brutality, intelligence, integrity and sincerity. No doubt this is a challenging release, however, Fruit of the Poisoned Tree also promises to be one of the strongest records of 2017 and may end up being strong enough to earn a place among the pantheon of must hear death metal albums. Virulent Depravity have definitely manufactured one of my favourites for the year and I have a feeling it may go down as one of my favourites ever given enough time and some repeated spins. Intricate yet brutal playing and a stellar recording don’t do this tech-death supernova justice, it simply needs to be heard to be understood.
Author’s note: I felt obligated to add this post-publishing. I write most of my reviews without an actual physical product, working from digital files I am lucky enough to get as promotional copies or just from my own personal files. That being said, I do make mistakes, and my review of Fruit of the Poisoned Tree by technical death metal newcomers Virulent Depravity contained an oversight I felt was worth correction. In my writing of the review I was unaware that Colin Butler was the primary guitarist and musical force behind this masterpiece and I mistakenly credited the bulk of the work to the wrong individual. Although the beastly Malcolm Pugh did contribute some massive riffs and solos this album was primarily the love child of Butler, a name that is certain to become well known in extreme music circles in the near future.