If anyone asked me for advice on how to write reviews, my first action would be to ask them why the fucking hell they were asking me, a nobody with a free blog who peddles mostly self-depreciating jokes about his own misanthropy, but assuming they fanned my ego the necessary amount, I'd tell them "If you review something that you've already made your mind up on, your review is going to suck and stay sucky." This is why the vast majority of people who review on Encyclopaedia Metallum are such utter fuckscoffs - they knew what they were going to say about Parkway Burns The Prada-wearing Prom Queen or whatever other generic metalcore band, or about Frostbitten Grimkvlt and their black metal buddies before they started writing - something largely along the lines of "Booo, they're just like all the other metalcore bands I hate!" and "Yay, they're just like all the other black metal bands I love!" respectively.
This is why I don't review death metal. You see, I fucking love death metal, and the fact is that the template for mainstream death metal is so vividly refined that it's hard to make it sound anything other than good, though God only knows some bands have tried. I could write a review for the new Immolation and the new Nile, and they'd both read similarly - these are bands I already love, doing what they do best. There's no actual development here, and that's okay because what they do, they take pretty much to its inevitable conclusion. So lets see a death metal band that I DO have something new to talk about.
My favourite gig I ever went to was in a tiny venue in Brighton, attended by about 40 people, where me and a few of my friends saw three of the rising stars of British extreme metal - Viatrophy (R.I.P), Trigger the Bloodshed, and Annotations of an Autopsy. To call this gig "intimate" was an understatement - the front row of the crowd was ME. I actually ended up apologising to the bands on behalf of Sussex for such a shitty turnout because I felt kind of bad for them. However it did rule. The bands didn't half-ass it at all, and, upon meeting them, it turned out they were all lovely guys. I'm saying this as, I suppose, some kind of wierd full disclosure things, because I want you to know that I already liked Annotations of an Autopsy. A friend and I have matching t-shirts we got when we pre-ordered our copies of their debut. However, while what they were doing before - sludgy slam-influenced deathcore, which figured out that the only way to stop breakdowns interrupting the pace of the song was to keep the song at a low tempo anyway - was all very well and good, their sudden change in a traditional death metal direction shouldn't come as a surprise - not least because given that Job For A Cowboy, Trigger the Bloodshed, The Faceless and Through the Eyes of the Dead have all made the same move, you'd have to be pretty slow on the uptake not to at least weigh up the odds. One unfortunate symptom of this is the loss of their awesome ultra-distorted logo in favour of one that looks like it was potato-printed, and keep in mind that these motherfuckers brought this kind of logo back in. An upside is the involvement of ERIK FUCKING RUTAN as the mixer, who has quickly become the no. 1 name in death metal production, overtaking...well, Tue Masden or Colin Richardson, I guess, though there hasn't really been a decent big-name DM producer since Scott Burns quit, but whatever.
Anyway, the new sound is quite something. Considering the sludge influence they one had, it's not surprising that AoaA's tempos on this album, II: The Reign of Darkness, are very varied, and this is something that they're very good at - they can even keep tempo down while playing quickly, which is saying something. This is mostly thanks to superlative drummer Lyn Jeffs, who has buggered off to not-nearly-as-good slamcore band Ingested since this came out, whose drumming is the driving force behind AoaA's music. He keeps the pace of the songs reined in with force, and the whole CD hinges on his performance. Fortunately, he's awesome. Blasts are never overused, fills gel seamlessly with the standard rhythm-keeping beats, and his double-bass drumming is superb - damn near mechanical in its accuracy, though the drums themselves sound clicky enough to betray the use of triggers, which detracts from his man-points somewhat. This is a guy who knows exactly how his bands need his drumming to sound, and he pulls it off fantastically.
The guitars are also great. They're usually going fast, even during slow sections, and give a way a great deal of technical ability, especially during the tastefully used soloing sections. The riffs themselves have a superb sense of melody, never sinking to the death metal cop out of falling back on atonality. They always feel like they're developing, and changing the course of every song. There is a strong atmospheric feel to this album as well, which comes from the melodic elements and gives the album an intense character. It's the same doomy feel as their debut Before the Throne of Infection had, but without the obvious doom influence of that record, and it works very well. The breakdowns are much less metalcore-inspired this time round, but every so often falling back into the old reliance on the bass drop, which they still at least do better than a lot of bands. The vocals are higher and less gurgled than before, which is to say that they're now as low and gurgled as a regular death metal vocalist, and there's no trace of the unremarkable slam death rumble that vocalist Steve Regan adopted the first time round.
All this said, Annotations of an Autopsy never have a defining moment here, a particular riff or section which captures the imagination - there's not really a need, since their signature song, Sludge City, has more of this than most bands manage in a career. There is one thing to be said for deathcore that death metal finds much harder to do - memorable moments, like a decent chorus or breakdown. There are moments on this album which stand out, but nothing that grabs you and refuses to let go. For all its re-imagined sophistication, AoaA had, in their dramatic, slow riffs, unparalelled use of gang vocals and sludgy breakdowns, real punch-the-air moments which were unequivocably AoaA moments which defined them and placed them in the hearts of extreme metal fans. They come close - the solo in opener In Snakes I Bathe is the kind of solo they did so well on the last album's Years of Disgust. But no-one remembers the solo in Years of Disgust. They remember the big fuckoff breakdown after it, and I can't help but think that this album is lacking in that kind of memorability.
Nonetheless, while it won't set the world on fire, it is a great contemporary death metal release from a band who show a lot of promise when they're not aching with their desire to be another band. At times, that band takes the helm, and it's them you'll want to listen to.