As a recent affair concerning a Malaysian airliner has seen fit to demonstrate, people are drawn towards conspiracy theories. I mean, they really seem to love them. Perhaps it’s simply a veiled extension of the Romantic prerogative to seek a break from the mundane. After all, an otherwise tragic loss of human life becomes much more exciting (and easier to cope with) the moment aliens or trans-dimensional portals are mentioned. In any case, Embryonic Devourment have made it their mission with Reptilian Agenda to spread the word of some of the more nefarious conspiracy theories out there. Death metal as a genre has often sought to evoke graphically violent or morbid imagery as a means to reflect some aspect of reality we might have been blissfully ignorant of, and Embryonic Devourment’s third album is no exception. Is Reptilian Agenda meant to be approached as some reflection of fear or doubt in modern society, or are the scheming aliens mentioned herein meant to be taken at their face value? Whatever the case may be, Embryonic Devourment certainly have the technical chops and tightness to make the formula work, although patchy songwriting and rough pacing issues still serve to hold the band back.
Reptilian Agenda barely scales the half-hour mark, but feels a fair bit longer, mostly due to the amount of ideas and riffs Embryonic Devourment cram into their music. Burstfire rhythms, classically-influenced shred leads and a thick bass presence all solidify Embryonic Devourment’s place in the canon of tech-death, although there’s a more organic and fluid tinge to their execution than many of the genre’s modern-day flagships. First and foremost, Embryonic Devourment can and should be recommended as a riff-oriented band. Although it’s usually the fierce and much-audible bass work of Austin Spence that catches my ear the most here, Reptilian Agenda is almost entirely driven by a sequence of individual guitar ideas. I’m far less reminded of songwriting in the traditional sense; with little exception, each of the eight tracks here feels like a sequence of vicious ideas that barely complement each other. A mid-paced chug might devolve into a slower lead or technical rhythm; there’s plenty of dynamic here, but Embryonic Devourment haven’t seen fit to make the ideas work together as a whole. It feels like the obvious result of a band that was far too fixated on writing riffs, without regard to how they would come together as a final product. The only time where a strong sense of purpose or direction emerges is during the second half of “Suffer the Seas of Gore”, in which the band focuses in on a brilliant idea and develop steadily upon it. Harmonic notes aplenty, an eerie tension begins to sweep over, and it feels like the band has found patience enough to realize an idea’s full potential. Sadly, it’s an anomaly in the album. The rest of Reptilian Agenda is usually too busy or impetuous to create atmosphere like that, but “Suffer the Seas of Gore” at least demonstrates that Embryonic Devourment have the ability to integrate structure well into their formula.
Thankfully, the focus and attention to technically proficient and aggressive riffs pays off for the most part. Although there’s no getting over the disjointed composition, Embryonic Devourment sound ridiculously tight as a band. Their musical ideas see fit to challenge the bass guitarist and drummer as well; it’s disappointingly uncommon to see a tech-death band apply the tech part to the entire band, and Embryonic Devourment certainly succeed in giving their performance balance in that regard. While the vocals are the least impressive ingredient, there is a rare variety and dynamic in the vocalists’ performance. Austin Spence and Lauren Pike deliver a range from your genre-expected gutturals to howls and higher-pitched rasps. The music is generally too frenetic to allow the vocals for much of an emotional effect (if any was possible in the first place), but the decision to vary up the vocals ultimately works in their favour.
The lyrics here read like a would-be conspiracy theorist’s cookbook. A lyrical excerpt here might read like the paranoid scrawlings you might read in a public washroom, and that’s not even necessarily a bad thing in this case. More often than not, Embryonic Devourment point the finger towards the titular Reptilian race, whom you’ve probably heard about if you keep up with ufology or The X-Files. If not, it’s enough to explain them as sneaky, slimy, and seemingly molded to fit death metal lyrics. As the strong album cover would seem to indicate, most of the conspiracies surrounding these reptilians have to do with them shape-shifting into roles of power in human society. Embryonic Devourment’s interpretation of this falls somewhere in between the graphic lyrics of early death metal canon, and the term-dropping verbosity often found in modern tech-death. For what it’s worth, there is intention and intelligence in Embryonic Devourment’s lyrics; for what they lack in subtlety or depth, the subject matter is handled relatively well, and it’s certainly more interesting than the medical-definition techno-babble most technical death metal bands are going for these days.
Reptilian Agenda is an impressive record in several ways, and it’s clear that Embryonic Devourment knew what they were doing going into their third album. Vicious riffs, fluid production and interesting subject matter all serve to distinguish the band from their more generic peers. All the same, it’s nigh-impossible to ignore the sense of empty satisfaction felt from the lack of structure suffered here. A skilled warrior is nothing in a battle if not for the soldiers at his side, and so it applies to the writing on Reptilian Agenda.
01) Challenging All Forms of Hope
02) Masonic Angeldust
04) Experimental Deformation
05) Suffer the Seas of Gore
06) Sealed with Resin
07) Whilst the Rich Dine