Outside The Spiral

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Starring Role
02. Outside The Spiral
03. Privilege
04. As It Seems
05. Invitation
06. Forest Of Because
07. Who Awaits
08. Insist And Demand
09. The Good The Bad The Other
10. Watch You Grow Old
11. Bring On The Gods

The evolution of heavy music has been influenced by all kinds of eccentric and fearless artists, and Kelly Shaefer deserves to be near the top of the list. As the man behind Floridian death metal mavericks ATHEIST, he has done more than most to push the genre away from the mundane and toward a more progressive, adventurous ethos. Decades on from their release, albums like "Unquestionable Presence" and "Elements" still sound forward-thinking and subversive, and if there is a more berserk and unhinged record in recent times than ATHEIST's 2010 comeback "Jupiter" then the world absolutely needs to hear it. Like many restless creatives, Shaefer is a relentless fount of ideas, and "Outside The Spiral" is the glistening manifestation of his latest, cheerfully complex brain-dump.

A new band with a sound that only infrequently references his past works, TILL THE DIRT is a purposeful rebirth for the veteran legend. This hits differently, in the best possible way.

No need to panic, however. TILL THE DIRT are still firmly entrenched in the brutality that Shaefer has been known for. Opener "Starring Role" tears off at a hectic pace, powered by the gnarliest of thrash, before Shaefer juggles the first of many curveballs, assimilating a grim strain of grunge into his new hybrid. The result is a mixture of frenzied aggression and nuanced, textured heaviness, and despite the familiarity of its various elements, it serves as the ideal introduction to an album that prizes originality over box-ticking. The title track reinforces the point: this is wild, wayward and exploratory metal, predicated on nimble, syncopated grooves, but twisted into perverse new shapes and dense with strange, dark melodies (and the legendary STEVE DIGIORGIO on bass). Next, "Privilege" repurposes nails-hard noise rock as a new avenue for TILL THE DIRT's deathly forward march, with jagged, blackened detours and lashings of the Devil's discord.

Elsewhere, "As It Seems" and "Insist And Demand" allow doomy vibes to seep into the atmosphere, with the latter sounding a lot like a drugged-out TRIPTYKON battling their way through a blizzard of blastbeats. "Invitation" is an avalanche of scabby riffs and caustic churn, rendered in epic, grandiose shades; "Forest Of Because" is malevolent stoner metal, executed with great technicality and a bilious, bluesy undertow. "Watch You Grow Old" has a bleak, industrial edge that ebbs and flows alongside tar-thick sludge riffs and old-school DM dexterity. The closing "Bring On The Gods" is a futuristic blitzkrieg, laced with moments of classic metal melody, but warped beyond measure by Shaefer's distorted, deviant vocals.

This will all make perfect sense to long-time ATHEIST devotees, but TILL THE DIRT have an accessible edge that Shaefer's alma mater never bothered with. As a result, "Outside The Spiral" is a seriously weird and brutal record, with real potential to extend beyond the death metal faithful and connect with a bigger audience than the great man is arguably used to. He's a clever bastard, and we're lucky to have him.

Author: Dom Lawson
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