Album Review: “Amidst Voices that Echo in Stone” by Ominous Ruin

It’s rare for a technical death metal band to have as much hype as Ominous Ruin are currently enjoying. I would attribute the hype both to the hunger within the metal community for quality tech death, and to the band themselves for delivering music that satisfies this demand. With Amidst Voices that Echo in Stone, out February 26th on Willowtip Records, Ominous Ruin demonstrate a mastery of the genre, utilizing razor-sharp riffage and calculated brutality to craft a collection of memorable songs that are full of suspense and vitality. Their offering has already reinvigorated a scene that one might have thought had already passed through its heyday.

L-R: Joel Guernsey, Harley Blandford, Adam Rosado, Alex Bacey, Mitch Yoesle

The best way to appreciate Amidst Voices that Echo in Stone is to compare it to earlier Ominous Ruin releases. Their 2011 and 2014 demos (later compiled onto a promo) and their 2015 EP, Exiled, exhibit the same tech death style as the new record, but are musically simpler, somewhat lacking in production value, and ultimately didn’t help Ominous Ruin stand out from the pack of similar bands. There’s still hints of the band’s later sound that are present in this early material, including creative use of catchy rhythms and chord-driven passages, but the songwriting chops and technical prowess simply aren’t yet there.

On Voices, however, not only is the quality of production greatly improved, but the songwriting has reached a tipping point. Each song evolves a set of musical motifs through cascades of twists and turns in service of the overarching composition, and the elements of riff, pattern, lyric, and melody all work together to support the dramatic storytelling that emerges. This is apparent in the first two tracks from the album, “Ritual” and “Attuned to the Chasm,” which have both been released as singles:

The foundation of all death metal is sick guitar riffs, and guitarist Alex Bacey is incredibly consistent at delivering well-crafted riffs that exploit interesting harmonic and rhythmic ideas. There’s a balance between riffs that are catchy enough to serve as hooks that get stuck in your head, and evil-sounding riffs that elicit the stank face. There’s also a good amount of solo sections that contribute to the virtuosity on display without meandering into instrumental worship. The guitars are presented on a relatively low-gain setting, and it’s refreshing to hear the natural character of the instrument breathe within the space of the mix, especially during some of the chugging parts that might otherwise be oversaturated.

The songs are propelled forward by the phenomenal talent of vocalist Adam Rosado, who boasts a wide palette of vocal styles (occasionally supplemented with tastefully chosen FX). Many of the vocal patterns showcase Rosado moving from his rock-solid mid-range into an earth-rumbling gutteral or piercing high. The vocals are a little quiet in the overall mix, but that doesn’t prevent the listener from appreciating Rosado’s breakout performance.

I’ll echo previous reviewers in applauding the bass performance of Mitch Yoesle, who serves up some of the most tasteful lead sections ever put forth on a tech death record. The production serves Yoesle well, as the bass is ever-present in the mix, and yet Yoesle avoids over-playing in the way that hampers a band like Beyond Creation. But perhaps the best production is reserved for session drummer Andrew Baird, who delivers the best-captured performance of his career. Baird’s tasteful drumming brings life to these songs and underscores the value of human performance in a genre that, due to a variety of constraints, often resorts to over-sampled or fully-sampled drum tones.

It’s helpful to compare Ominous Ruin to Inanimate Existence and Fallujah, as these bands overlap with respect to membership (Fallujah is Baird’s main outfit, while Yoesle and incoming guitarist Joel Guernsey both had stints in Inanimate Existence). Both of these bands have taken technical death metal into novel territory, exploring new progressive atmospheres and moving away from some of the tropes of the traditional tech death formula. Because of this progression, the tech death mantle has arguably been left vacant for a band like Ominous Ruin to claim, by showing how the style can be augmented by influences from a variety of different genres without shedding the fundamental commitment to catchy riffing and crystal-clear production.

This is apparent on album highlight “Deception”, which (SPOILERS AHEAD) showcases the band unexpectedly yet effortlessly sliding into a blackened metal aesthetic, while maintaining their adept sensibility throughout the passage. The guest vocals in this section add additional novelty to its sonic character, and the whole passage feels musically natural and expansive. Throughout Amidst, there are several such passages that expand on the traditional tech death formula and show that the band is still in dialogue with current metal trends. Clean guitar drones, hooky headbang sections, and doomy atmospheres keep the album sounding fresh and help prevent listener burnout.

Overall, Amidst Voices that Echo in Stone reminds me why I love death metal in the first place, technical death metal in particular: it triangulates between brutality, virtuosity, and progressive elements to deliver a tight package of sick songs. I’m already seeing “Album of the Year” getting thrown around in discussions online, and I’m sure that Ominous Ruin will be at or near the top of my 2021 list. The next challenge for these guys will be seeing if they can pull it off live, but based on the instrumental playthroughs that I’ve seen (soon to be released to the public), I’m certainly expecting them to execute this material in the concert setting. It’s my hope that this album forms part of a new renaissance of California technical death metal, and that the band continues to produce killer music for years to come.

If you want to take a deep dive into the band’s background and influences, check out Ominous Ruin’s appearance on Cali Death Podcast:

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