Alluvial - Sarcoma (Cover Artwork)


Sarcoma (2021)

Nuclear Blast

Who remembers The Deep Longing For Annihilation from 2017? Alluvial came right of the gate back then with their debut album; an instrumental exercise in what you could probably characterise as post-death metal, I suppose. It was technically impressive, dynamic and expressive enough to show real promise. But to answer my own question somewhat, I suspect not that many people do remember the debut. That’s not a reflection of quality for what it’s worth, but instrumental post-death with virtuoso guitar flourishes is not a scene with a huge fanbase, to be frank. Maybe it’s that fact or maybe it’s natural development, but just over 4 years later Alluvial are back. And they’re not an instrumental band anymore.

Ex-Suffocation vocalist Kevin Muller has joined the band’s ranks along with Tim Walker on bass, Matthew Paulazzo (I won’t even try to list the number of bands Matthew has played with) on drums and founding member Wes Hauch (ex-Black Crown Initiate) on guitar. Wes has also played live stints with the likes of Thy Art Is Murder and maybe even more pertinently, Devin Townsend. So Alluvial are now in danger of becoming something of a supergroup. I’m sure they won’t see themselves as such, but the resumé of the various members makes for tantalising reading for your typical death metal fan. I know this well, because I am one. What it also makes Alluvial though, is something close to an experiment. How many times have you heard someone say of an instrumental band: “I just can’t get into it because there are no vocals…” I hear it a lot, and in some instances I can even sympathise. So if you listen to the band’s debut and then Sarcoma one immediately after the other, it makes for an interesting listening experience, showing a ‘before and after’ of a band being instrumental and then with a vocalist. It also brings to the fore the benefits of both approaches.

At their best, in their current incarnation, Alluvial are clearly capable of making some of the most fascinating and unusual metal you’ll hear this year. It’s very technical but it’s not tech death. It’s maybe closer to prog death (the intro to “Stories” is noticeably jazz influenced), but we’re not in Blood Incantation territory either. There are emotive, complex solos with trad metal feeling to them (the title track has a beauty in it), but trad metal never gets this weird or heavy. The production is clear and does allow the technicality to shine through, but without it feeling needlessly clinical or ‘djenty’. The vocals are primarily of the more roared death metal approach as opposed to guttural growls, but you’re also hit with cleans from time to time, moving this even further from typical death metal territory.

The reason I say that the record also brings the benefits of instrumental music to mind is that for my money, one of the record’s major highlights is the all-instrumental track “Sugar Paper”. Across its near 6-minute runtime, I find myself completely gripped. It’s incredibly emotive, technically mesmerising and it showcases what the band are capable of, musically. So much so, that the next track being called “Anodyne” feels a bit overly apt, as the track (bruising as it is) feels noticeably less engaging in comparison.

What these divergences and stylistic fluctuations do mean though, is that this is one of the most diverse extreme metal records I’ve heard in a long time. There is a chance it could fall between two stools (not extreme enough for purists, too extreme for the post/prog crowd), but for me it offers a provocative mix of styles that keep me coming back to this; more so than other records that I imagined would be more to my liking. Variety, after all, is the spice of life. And death, apparently.