I can't say that many albums have left me coming out of them in sheer amazement and awe. For example, Agony by Fleshgod Apocalypse and Monolith of Inhumanity by Cattle Decapitation, respectively in my opinion the albums of the year for 2011 and 2012, are among such pristine albums in my library of music that left me wanting to listen to them over and over again for days afterward. Only just today, on the 18th of September, 2012, newcomers Ikkadian from the great state of Virginia (home to both Lamb of God and my maternal grandmother), comprised mostly of former members of underrated death metal greats Dead Syndicate, have unleashed upon the world their own brand of blackened death metal in the form of Of Alpha and Omega, a brand reeking so wonderfully of an old school sense of self that I wouldn't be shocked if they were some lost band from the early 90s returning to make themselves known. Kind of like a death metal version of Hell, only American and a lot more on the blast beating side.
To get it out of the way first to ensure that I don't gush on it for too long, the production quality on this record is one of the best extreme metal album sounds I've heard in a VERY long time. The warm, rich tone of the guitars mixed with the almost entirely natural drum sound (drummer and album producer Michael Arcane stated on Derek Roddy's message boards that the only aspect of the drums on Of Alpha and Omega that wasn't natural were the kick drums, and I can't blame him due to how blisteringly fast the overwhelming majority of the record is), the album's sound quality will remind many a listener of the golden days of death metal in the early to mid-1990s, while still retaining a solid, modern touch that lets the listener hear almost everything involved in the music.
Tracks such as Lotus allow the band to show off their more melodic side, featuring an acoustic guitar section (and it's not the only track on the album to do so; opener and lead "single" Adversary features a brief Spanish guitar fling that while brief lets the listener breathe for a few seconds before the onslaught of tremolo picking and blast beating resumes), while Archangel shows more of the band's black metal influences, showcasing high string tremolo picking worthy of any frozen Nordic forest. Interestingly, unlike most metal bands of the current era, Ikkadian chose to leave the album without a short 1-2 minute intro track; the album leaps directly into Adversary's mayhem, and rarely will the band take a pause or even a short slow down to let the listener have a moment to collect themselves. Rather than fill the album with needless technicality and "wankery", Ikkadian build their sound upon thick ass riffs and savage yet sophisticated brutality. It's so damn good to hear actual riffs on a death metal album again!
Vocalist Donny Doss provides a style of harsh growling and shrieking rarely seen in modern death metal. Instead of doing what large number of the current crop of extreme metal vocalists do and just try to imitate Lord Worm (note: it almost never works), Mr. Doss goes for a more mid-ranged style of shouting, reminiscent of the late great Chuck Schuldiner and David Vincent. Being that this is blackened death metal (with a VERY heavy emphasis on blackened), Donny pulls of a high pitched black metal shriek every so often, mostly in the way of double layered low/high harshes. John Connell provides the guitar, bass, and primary songwriting. When not endlessly finding higher and higher frets to tremolo pick on, Connell bases most of the riffing around a standard 4 note gallop, much like how Iced Earth's helmsman Jon Schaffer bases most of that band's songs around a 4 note gallop. Sometimes the best way to do things is the simple way, don't you think? The aforementioned Michael Arcane, previously the hammeriffic beast behind Dead Syndicate, blasts away at high speeds worthy of being recognized by the extreme metal audience at large. His style reminds me a great deal of my own biggest influence, the great Derek Roddy, featuring numerous little tricks Derek made well known, such as the backbeat blast. He is also the album's producer, mixer, and master mechanic, so the proverbial chef to compliment here would be him.
Ikkadian may only be one album and a couple years old, but they have thoroughly satisfied my want for enjoyable, decipherable, memorable extreme metal. Far too often in this day and age bands will fall back on studio tricks and loyal fanbases while constantly churning out sub par musical material. Ikkadian is anything but one of those bands, creating something with Of Alpha and Omega that the vast majority of not just extreme metal records, but heavy metal records overall can't create: a genuine album that sounds and feels like actual people created it, not just an editing software. Entering into that rare family of genuine, old school-yet-modern extreme metal that only bands such as Arizona's Lago can say they're a part of, Ikkadian and Of Alpha and Omega are definite must have for any fan of black metal, death metal, or extreme metal in general.
P.S. James Murphy does a guest guitar solo on this record. That alone is worth checking out.