Going by the PR blurbage alone, it’d be easy to think Germany’s Spheron are on their “Snap Judgement Mutation” album. Eek. That “eek” is because the SJM has a history. The technical death metal life cycle builds in a coin flip crossroads open to bands desperate to branch out without first laying the groundwork. The why behind this rerouting varies. Maybe raw talent is how a future mutant got to the top of their style, so other styles — ones that are seductively not under their current job description — shouldn’t be hard to conquer, right? (And then they sound like a nerd telling a weightlifter how to swing a maul.) Or “synths are so versatile.” Or “electroclash is my true calling.” Whatever the reason, and whatever the reason, no one said “no,” the 10,000 hours spent mastering the deathly arts are pitched out the window, and then it’s, screech, hard left. The immediate SJM result? Not great, Bob. Fans are shed until their kids have aged into appraisers.
And that’s where A Clockwork Universe, Spheron’s second album, is different. SJM this ain’t. Sure, this quintet has progressed, but it’s not like Spheron’s full-length debut, 2013’s Ecstacy Of God, was straight-ahead death metal cooked all the way through. In between the sniper-sharp, precise riffs and blasts were touches of black metal and prog. A Clockwork Universe continues this trend, simply redistricting Spheron’s interests. More black metal. More prog. More things that have been there before. So its step to the left isn’t out of the blue. It’s more of an Elements than anything; a culmination rather than a rebirth. It strengthens the extracurriculars without yanking out what was holding everything up in the first place.
Of course, what “The Blind Watchmaker” really has going for it is feelings. Like, real ones. “Tech” and “prog,” when added as style signifiers to death metal, can act as an antiseptic. Not here. Tobias Alter’s melancholic leads sound like something from the fingers of Ivar Bjørnson. It’s minor key black metal’s equivalent of seasonal affective gutbucket. Then, singer Daniel Spoor is able to give the bridges some passion without sounding like a wimp in need of a vocal coach. Plus, the acoustic stuff is as pretty as it is earned. “Watchmaker” winds through sections that are somehow both build-ups and breathers. The train doesn’t need to jump. There’s well-laid track all the way through.
But yeah, this is a tech death song first. Mark Walther’s quick rhythm riffs are death by needles. Bassist Mathias Minor and drummer Tobias Blach probably have a few sweaty play-through videos in their future. Together, the band makes sure there’s an evil whispered beneath even the breeziest parts. In the end, though mutating, Spheron hasn’t lost its wallop. However, like a few other of their SJM avoiding peers, the members have found more than they’ve left behind. Listen.
A Clockwork Universe is out 2/26 via Apostasy.