Some forms of music are harder to review than others. This is a fact, and it doesn’t necessarily even correlate with how challenging the music itself might be. For a genre like tech-death (or prog, or most forms of jazz, for that matter), a high standard of musicianship goes with the territory; it’s a rigid expectation, to the point where technical excellence might still pass for mediocrity in the given genre. I don’t think this is unfair either; when we’re listening to an album like Banisher‘s Scarcity, the band’s undeniable tightness as a unit virtually goes without question. Rather, to tell whether a tech-death album is worth its salt or not, we have to keep ears open for the less apparent elements in the sound. Namely songwriting—and if that fails, a healthy dose of innovation always helps.
Banisher are among that majority group of technical death metal bands I’ve heard that astound me from a technical perspective, but otherwise fail to resonate with me. It might be said that Scarcity one-ups the truly average fare of the genre by incorporating a slightly wider range of influences than the typical genre go-tos like Cryptopsy and Dying Fetus, but it’s not enough to keep me interested for long. Scarcity keeps both ears busy for the space of a half-hour, but any lasting impressions are minimal.
For all of the energy and ideas that Banisher inject into their music, the songwriting feels somewhat underwhelming. This is something many of their tech-death ilk may be accused of; technique and aggression are aplenty, but there’s nothing to most of the songs to distinguish them from one another. Where are the memorable riffs, the spectacular dynamics? Technical death metal isn’t particularly heavy on either, but the best tech-death always is. To give them fair credit, Banisher have a stronger sense of variety than the average band, but the amorphous shifts between core, grind, and tech influences are rarely bold enough to make the diversity interesting unto itself. The way Banisher interprets these potentially night-and-day styles on Scarcity, they’re just slightly varying shades of the same aggression.
Although there’s a certain invigoration to hear a band jump between chugging breakdowns, brushfire soloing, and quasi-thrash intensity, the best demonstration of Banisher as composers comes with the minute-long ‘interlude’ tracks. The mellow reprieve from the technical information overload of their mainstay style would be welcome halfway through the album regardless of the interludes’ quality, but there’s a fantastic sense of melody and atmosphere in them that I would have loved to have seen more on the album.
While I have some trouble grasping onto a single riff or idea on the album after the fact, it should be said that Banisher keep their music engaging throughout. Although the hookless approach feels cold as a listener, the onward march of riffs is impressively intuitive. There’s little sense of the ‘cut and paste’ idea progressions that so many lesser tech death acts are plagued by. While I’m not entirely sure if this is a good thing or not, the most vivid recollection I think I’ll have of the album in the future is the last track; Banisher do a ridiculous, brutal death metal cover of the ‘Benny Hill’ theme, seemingly managing to amp up their usual aggression just a bit more for the occasion. Yes, it’s a lost opportunity that Banisher squandered their album’s climax on a joke, but it’s a good joke, and one that’s bound to surprise you even when you know it’s coming.
Scarcity is a good album for its style, and for what it’s worth, the kind of condensed aggression Banisher have brought to it has been a welcome change from my largely atmospheric listenings as of late. As a band, it also shouldn’t go unmentioned that Banisher are very tight technically; there were many times listening to the album where guest drummer Lukaz Krzesiewicz‘s snare-heavy delivery reminded me of Lykathea Aflame‘s Tomáš Corn—a comparison any death metaller would be honoured by. Scarcity does little yet-unheard with technical death metal, but for those of us that enjoy the genre’s mile-per-second intensity, that shouldn’t be enough to rule it out.
01) War on Drugs
05) Black Blood
07) Paradigm Shift
10) Benny Hill