As a general rule, technical death metal is not an easy genre to love. Most bands playing it seem to want to demonstrate sheer technical mastery more than they do a knack for writing riffs; and when they do write something resembling conventional riffs, it’s rare for these to coalesce into a song with a sense of movement and flow. Gorguts can probably take most of the blame for this; Obscura was the kind of dizzying, genre-defying (and defining) work that did all of the above, but did so in such a way that it won listeners over. Throw in the cult-like appreciation for Portal, and the appeal of tech-death becomes a bit more clear. The latest band to take on the challenge thrown down by these bands are French trio Chaos Motion, and what they achieve with Psychological Spasms Cacophony is, well… it is A Lot, in every sense of the phrase.
Initial impressions are that Chaos Motion approached song-writing for the album as if the very concept of 4/4 time-signatures and a riff you can nod your head along to were a personal insult. The songs are the fever-dream version of death metal; twisting leads and guitar movements that go everywhere and nowhere at once; rhythms that move with stop-start stutters and a disregard for any convention of, well, rhythm; and vocals that bellow insanities from the depths of human consciousness. Even by the standards of progressive tech-death, Psychological Spasms Cacophony can seem like, well, exactly what its title states. The album is well-named.
Typically with tech-death, such initial thoughts will either wear off after several listens, as song structures slowly become clear; or alternatively, the realisation will sink in that the band in question has tried to marry their love of off-kilter rhythms, pick-sweeps, and general technicality with an actual attempt to write songs, but fallen short of their goal. But with Psychological Spasms Cacophony, I’m not convinced that either of those scenarios is the case. The disregard for conventional structure doesn’t represent a failure on Chaos Motion’s part to write songs that show-off their technical ability. Instead, the album feels more like it has embraced (knowingly or not) a spirit more commonly found in the improvisational strands of free-jazz. Rather than try to write death metal songs, instead it feels like what Chaos Motion have done on each track is try to focus on a particular mood or atmosphere (which makes me realise that Gorguts missed a trick in not naming Obscura “The Shape of Death Metal to Come”). That said moods and atmospheres are all some variant of claustrophobic anxiety and utter restlessness is neither here nor there; the album is music as an expression of emotion and force, unrefined and raw. That this type of tech-death requires incredibly control and technique only adds to the irony and effectiveness of this. Tracks like ‘Inner Chaos’ and the Outro may sound like random bursts of noise and harmonics at first, but there’s an admirable level of control buried deep in these songs and other, propping the album up.
None of which really answers the ultimate question of a review: what is Psychological Spasms Cacophony like to listen to? It is a whirlwind; an exhausting one, that feels like it lasts far beyond its 42-minute duration, such is the sheer density of sound contained within the album. Is it enjoyable? In any conventional sense, no; there are no melodies or riffs to get lost in, and each moment is an attack of sound. Yet even so, there is something addictive about Psychological Spasms Cacophony that makes it, if not enjoyable, then rewarding. Over a dozen listens on and I’m still unsure whether I actually like the album or not. Will you end up losing hours to it? Most likely, yes. Assuming that the initial onslaught of disjointed rhythms, head-spinning guitars, and almost senseless vocals don’t repel you within its opening minutes, of course.
It’s almost lazy to describe a tech-death album as “difficult”, but no other word suits Psychological Spasms Cacophony. By comparison, albums such as Portal’s Swarth feels almost radio-friendly. Yet to describe the album just as noise and random guitar noodling would be wrong. As unwelcoming as it is, Psychological Spasms Cacophony has something about it that wants to draw you in as much as it wants to repel you, and that contradiction makes for an enthralling, challenging listen.