No one can accurately state the first time they heard this or what the circumstances were, but no question every human has heard a variation of the following: never judge a book by its cover. Wise words to live by: actively avoiding making a decision based on the looks of something, thereby allowing oneself to delve into the depths of something that may otherwise have gone unnoticed and unexplored. And yet, there are times when the act of actually making a decision based on the looks can yield some unexpectedly positive results: enter Asylum’s new album Psalms of Paralysis. In having never heard of this band prior to this release, the odds were very slim that this would ever end up on my radar but, alas, something about that album cover created pause, just enough to ignite the spark of curiosity, which is all anyone needs to give something a chance. Regrets making a decision based on cover? Not this time.
Asylum doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel on Psalms of Paralysis, rather what they aimed to accomplish and have succeeded in accomplishing is providing a progressive death metal album rife with chugging thrash riffs, stellar percussive assault, a great rhythm section complete with a strong bass performance and, for lack of a better term, a unique take on death metal vocals. An outsiders prospective creates an interesting dilemma here: given the lack of prior knowledge of who these guys are and what they do, a premium was placed on getting to the point quickly and effectively, and for the most part, Asylum succeeds in spades. First track, Apprehensia, does what an effective album should do: create intrigue within the listener nearly immediately. Despite its short length, wherein the group could have taken the easy route and done a throwaway instrumental, Asylum provide us a glimpse into what they are about: if you like this track, rife with suffocating riffs, a funky bass line, and a vocalist in Colby Rodgers who sounds like one part Dani Filth, one part Travis Ryan, and one part feral beast, then by god you’ll enjoy this album as a whole.
Acting as a theme of the album, lyrically speaking this album is certainly dark, and one might say surgical in its approach. Really soaking in the vocals and lyrics will no doubt cause a chill to run up ones spine, as no one can truly enjoy the thought of deathly sharp objects cutting into flesh and bone, invoking the frailty of the human body and mind. The aforementioned unique vocal take rears its head on standout track Spectral Incantation, where our lead vocalist summons a demon from within, sounding like a rabid, exorcised feline as he screams for his ‘precious scalpel;’ if this doesn’t raise the hairs on your back or at least give you pause and make you think about what the hell you’ve just heard, then nothing will. It won’t be enjoyable for many, but it’s certainly a fresh take on vocals, which yields a track that won’t soon be forgotten.
Ratcheting up the chilling feeling of nausea, dependence, and suffocation is the supporting cast; while each song is heavy with riffs, it’s the moments where the guitars shine with melodious solos that make the darkness of the remaining album all the more palpable; they give the listener a break from the horrific imagery brought about via our shrieking front man, sucking us in, making us drop our guard, only to have us yanked back when the blast beats take hold, the riffs chug along, and the bassist showcases his highly technical skill with groovy bass-lines to keep it all in check.
This album is not without fault, for sure, as Rodgers’ vocals can take serious getting used to when he reaches into the pit of despair for some of his delivery, and occasionally the rhythm section can fall back on their laurels, with prototypical death metal drum fills and riffs that, while distorted and heavy, will not be remembered for their groove or their infectiousness. Perhaps the only portion of the band and album that doesn’t really fall into a pattern of going through the motions is the bass: funky in spots, reminiscent of some of the best in tech death in others, the bass is a real treat for fans of the instrument, and it’s truly the only consistent part of the album.
But let it be known, these are not faults that ruin the album. Heliophobic rips through the speakers in the vein of Apprehensia; clocking in at just over 2 minutes, schizophrenic shrieking highs and demonic lows of Rodgers coupled with the constantly shifting tempo of the drums and the lighting quick solo to release the tension yield a track that should garner multiple spins, just to appreciate what these guys can do in such a short period of time. And with a total run-time of less than 40 minutes, Psalms of Paralysis packs a punch in a small package.
All things considered, Asylum didn’t have a great deal going for them as it pertains to a ‘hype-train,’ but they’ve proven that hype doesn’t equal quality. Psalms of Paralysis is technically proficient, dark, and rarely boring, albeit one that will no question cause some listeners to wonder what the hell they’re listening to. Colby Rodgers and crew have shown that they should not be relegated to the realm of the obscure, and that if their debut is any indication, we should expect some great material in the future.