Dystopia A.D., the now two-man Progressive/Technical Death Metal outfit from New Jersey return with their second album, “Rise of the Merciless”. For this release, project mastermind Chris Whitby is joined by lead guitarist Aki Shishido, who was one of the many guest lead guitarists featured on the previous album, 2018’s “Designing Ruin” and whilst that was a very good album in its own right “Rise of the Merciless” is such a progression from where that release left off that it kicks that predecessor into touch, taking the approach to this adventurous sound blend to the next level in an even more cohesive and focused manner but still maintaining that outside of the box thinking edge with a decidedly ballsier approach too.
Getting Aki onboard as a full team member and covering all the solos is definitely a great move and adds continuity. “Rise of the Merciless” is also an album that captures the imagination. It’s not just the music that is fascinating but also the story behind it, the theme of war is not a coincidence as Chris recorded his sections from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where he was deployed as a Major in the U.S. Army, and the guitar work reflects his time there, making it a powerful and emotive listen.
Because of the blending of Progressive with Technical Death Metal it’s still a punchy and complex sound but there is a rounded quality there too, and with other unexpected elements like the sax on “Plaguebringers”, adding a mysterious and wistfully progressive edge. Also each track seems unique, well varied and very well considered and constructed particularly the superbly convoluted “Sisyphean Existence” and all with equally well delivered lyrics that explore themes of the occult, suffering, and insanity.
There is often a very exotic eastern tinge to the guitar work, very noticeable on opening track “Red Sand” which builds with sinister promise opening into the start of what will become an abundance of lead work swathes, both here and across the whole album and on the closer “Grave Pact”.
I like the dialogue between the two voices that often manifests, particularly on “Red Sand” where it delivers as a lower growl and a more vitriolic shriek, and on “Rise of the Merciless” retro sounding Rock cleans join the screams and growls all of which have a good clarity of content.
You can’t predict how these tracks will develop either. The beautifully haunting melody and soaring lead work courses through “Nomad” which complements the growling vocals so well then melts away as the mood of the track drops suddenly at the midpoint becoming reflective with tortuous screams and cleans replacing the growls and “Rise of the Merciless” has an intriguing industrial/mechanical opener and riffs that are slightly suggestive of a spaghetti western before flipping into complex soaring leads, before those previously mentioned retro Rock cleans join the screams and growls. Bizarrely good and so cleverly done, there is nothing about this album that could ever be called boring or predictable, six listens in and it’s still surprising me, it is too complex to sink in in one go.
“Rise of the Merciless” will be released on July 31 2020 as an independent digital release on Bandcamp, and is well worth the modest asking price, buy it, you won’t be disappointed.
Rating – 5/5