I fucking hate baseball. I can’t for the life of me understand the sport’s wide appeal and the only way I can make it through attending a game is spending a small fortune on lukewarm stadium beer. However, despite being a piss-poor pastime, the sport of baseball has provided modern vernacular with the excellent analogy of the curveball, a pitch that seemingly switches direction mid-flight. From what my baseball-loving friends tell me while I’m nodding politely and attempting not to fall asleep is that throwing a proper curveball takes an incredible amount of skill. It is no less difficult when bands attempt to execute the musical equivalent. Pittsburg’s Victims of Contagion plainly possess the right stuff, knocking it out of the park (ugh, okay no more baseball analogies, I promise.) on their new EP Parasitic Unborn.
As the EP begins with a clip of everybody’s favorite mad scientist Walter Bishop talking about moving metal around someone’s brain, I was fairly certain I was in for some properly nerdy technical death metal. First track “Neurohoarder” confirmed my expectation, kicking off with a combination of double-kick drums and tremolo picking that suddenly blasts into a into a frenetic guitar solo provided by guitarist Chuck Forsythe that quickly transitions into a series of weighty, chugging riffs. As is customary with the genre, the changes come fast and furious, but Victims of Contagion strike a great balance between esoteric prog wizardry and unbridled, headbang-inducing aggression. Vocalist Bob Meister’s guttural snarl fits perfectly with Victim of Contagion’s style, and it’s nice to hear a death metal vocalist who is able to clearly enunciate while keeping things heavy.
It is during the EP’s second song “Terminal Evolution” where things get completely and wonderfully weird. The track commences with another blistering combination of drums and speedy picking that leads into a wild solo from second guitarist Chad Neville. The song then runs through a series of sections of varying complexity and tempo that demonstrate the band’s considerable technical and songwriting chops. The track continues building in speed and weight, and just when I’m convinced I’m about to get my face melted by another ludicrous solo, apparently…it’s fiesta time? That’s right, Victim’s of Contagion straight up drop a tasteful, super groovy flamenco/Latin fusion section completely out of nowhere for approximately twenty seconds and then bust back into death metal like nothing ever happened. And you know what? It totally fucking works. Not only does it work, the abrupt tonal shift acts as an audible wink, letting the listener know just how much fun Victims of Contagion are having.
While not as much of a complete mindfuck as “Terminal Evolution”, third song “A Miscalculation” includes a series of moments where the guitar tone suddenly goes clean and delivers a spacey, ethereal lead. These lighter moments act as good counterbalance to the EP’s brutality, making the heavy parts even heavier. The quality of the recording further enhances the album’s intricacy; all of the instrumentation is clear and crisp without sounding robotic or overproduced, and the rhythm section, composed of bassist Tim Church and drummer Mike Rush, is given just the right heft in the mix to hit listeners square in the chest and provide the EP with an incredibly urgent pace without completely overpowering everything else.
The EP’s final track “Subservience” features a guitar solo by Bobby Koelble, guitarist for the legendary death metal band Death . Unless times have been tough for Koelble and he’s handing out guest parts for $500 a pop, landing this dude for a guest solo is a huge badge of honor. Unsurprisingly, Koelble’s solo is great and takes a cue from earlier tracks by abruptly cutting in with a clean, jazzy feel that again suddenly shifts tone towards a more traditional metal solo.
Technical death metal, by its very nature, is a difficult genre to execute successfully. Musical prowess is indeed important, tech death tends to get really boring if it simply becomes a series of musical exercises meant to showcase each musicians noodle power. Victims of Contagion possess that skill, but more importantly, they know how to write actual songs and engage the listener from start to finish. Yes, the occasional wacky change ups are awesome but they are executed within the confines of what are already good tech death songs, not simply gimmicks trying to prop up substandard fare. Parasitic Unborn is a grotesque green monster of an EP and truly a home run for Victims of Contagion. ( UGH, I CAN’T FUCKING STOP MYSELF. GO BLUE JAYS!)
Written by Jesse Gainer