|Album Score: A-|
The inherent risk in sticking close to your influences is that no matter what you create, fans will compare you to multiple bands that that have done it before, and done it better. Luxembourg death metal band Scarred lists Meshuggah, Gojira, and Machine Head as prime influences on its death/thrash hybrid sound, but anyone who is likely to stumble across the group’s second album Gaia/Medea could probably figure that out within about 10 seconds of the opening song’s first riff. It just so happens that Scarred is a rare example of that band that not only does its antecedents justice, but often outclasses their corresponding latest efforts. Fans of L’enfant Sauvage may howl with derision and Unto the Locust’s proponents may beat their chest, but Gaia/Medea is a shot to the jaw of the genre giants that places Scarred squarely on the tech-death podium. Despite the obvious technical proficiency of all involved, there are a number of compositional techniques and production values that make Gaia/Medea a breakthrough effort for the band.
First and foremost on Gaia/Medea is Scarred’s propensity for riffs that are both rivetingly technical and hellaciously catchy. Guitarists Diogo Bastos and Bertrant Pinna aren’t afraid to venture into major-chord territory, lending songs such as album centerpieces “Low” and “Mosaic” a melodic sensibility usually reserved for the darker side of power metal (think Gamma Ray’s No World Order or Iced Earth’s Burnt Offerings). The visceral power behind “The Great Pandemic”, with its slithering introductory guitar solo and whiplash-inducing drum work, harkens back to Ride the Lightning-era Metallica, though Scarred has a long way to go before consistently reaching those heights. Frontman Sacha Breuer is perhaps the most instantly recognizable feature, with his use of two distinct vocal registers throughout the album. Most of the singing takes place in a Gojira-like rasp, which keeps the lyrics intact but powers through the dense layers of guitar and percussion. When things slow down on the gut-wrenching “Idiosyncrasy,” Breuer descends into his vocal fry for a dead ringer of Trey Azagoth, and indeed, the song wouldn’t sound terribly out of place on Covenant or Domination. His consistent mixing of the two gives songs a dual personality and serves to keep things from getting homogenous as the album moves forward.
Notable throughout Gaia/Medea is its old-school production, which focuses on creating a unified, organic feel rather than the sharp and mechanical sound typical of the genre. There’s nothing muddy or imprecise about it, but you get the feeling that the band is playing in front of you rather than honing each note in a digital interface and playing it back through headphones. Despite this, individual lines remain crisp – “The Knot” opens and closes with a Scale the Summit-esque guitar line that sounds like it’s echoing around you in a huge stadium, while “Cinder” pitches and rolls on a sea of juxtaposing guitar and bass riffs. The most impressive moments on the album aren’t the most difficult riffs or fastest drumming (though there’s plenty of that), but lie in the rousing peaks that each song revolves around and builds up to. In opening cut “Gaia,” it’s the pummeling triplet-based chorus that resolves two minutes’ worth of double-time breakdowns halfway through the song. In “Empire of Dirt,” it’s the return of a killer arpeggiated guitar riff that surfaces four times during the song, each time in a different harmonic context.
The takeaway from all this is that Scarred check the boxes of an excellent album without adhering to the formulas that can sterilize such an effort. By the time closing eleven-minute monster “Medea” arrives, Scarred have covered a tremendous amount of sonic territory. The stomping guitar lines that carry the song’s opening and final minutes are almost relaxing in comparison, allowing for some breathing room as the album comes to a close. Some clean guitar riffs even snake their way into the mix, and the whole effort showcases a deft sense of pacing as Scarred plays to its audience rather than trying to shoot off fireworks in an exhausting grand finale. From its apocalyptic opening broadcast, Gaia/Medea is an impressively cohesive effort that sees Scarred re-envisioning rather than recycling the music that the album is patterned after and breaking away from the increasingly machined sound of technical metal. If you found Koloss solid but same-y and wish more bands didn’t suck at trying to replicate Vulgar Display of Power, then you may just love what Scarred has come up with on Gaia/Medea.
3. The Great Pandemic
8. The Knot
9. Empire of Dirt