Album Review: System of Division – As Light Decays

In 2017 the fun weekend jams of drummer Beau Unwin and guitarist Brett Dunsire yielded increasingly solid material and made it impossible for the two not to take things further. They added vocalist Jamie Gaitskell and bass player Googz Hall, quickly putting together a shortlist of songs that let the group know they had some serious stuff on their hands. Punters at their initial shows agreed and As Light Decays got very busy very quickly, establishing a reputation for killer live shows that had them gracing the lineups of some high profile gigs in the Perth scene. The band released several singles and two videos along the way and are now preparing to launch their debut album “System of Division” on the 13th of November, a solid slab of Thrash and Groove Metal that is sure to see their reputation grow further and farther afield.

Still one of Your Grouchy Friend’s favourite band shots – please note house brick

The album kicks off with the swirling guitar intro to “Mordrake;” one of the three singles that preceded “System of Division.” No messing around here, one drum and bass hit-and-sustain, an ominous ride bell and we are off into mid-paced thrash glory. “Mordrake,” the two-faced urban legend of literary reknown – a character absolutely ripe for lyrical metaphor – provides the basis for engaging wordplay and vocal delivery. Thoughtful lyricism proves a hallmark of the band both in this song and the album as a whole with Jamie Gaitskell providing astute social commentary and entertaining imagery throughout. The tone is reminiscent of a number of classic Thrash acts with themes of oppression and socio-political evils (not to mention a penchant for shorts and skateboarding). “Mordrake” is a cracking opening track: well structured, catchy and heavy, with a beautifully understated, reverb drenched, atmospheric solo.

Following a spoken intro in German that certainly has the mind wandering as to its content (a general’s speech from Band of Brothers for those who wish to know more), “Mercy Kill” washes in with a very textural and atmospheric synth sample behind the initial music. The guitar lines don’t try to do too much but captivate nonetheless, and this is a crushing chug-a-lug fest with a breakdown chorus that hits the mark. The spread of the arpeggiated guitar in the chorus gives the band an effective device that is nicely revisited in “The Torrents Fall” where the effect is akin to Def Leppard’s “Gods of War” given the flavour of the modern processed guitars. But it is the cadence of the vocal lines in the verses that are are possibly the highlight of this one, avoiding obvious rhyme and being phrased in a way that keeps the ear.

Stop, drop and roar is historically such an outrageously effective technique in Metal (personal favourite being Bloodbath’s “So You Die”), the question is where one stops and when one drops. Repeating a central lyrical idea over an insistent build, stopping to silence and dropping into the verse proper is an absolute winner in “The Blame Game”.

“How dare you ask… for what is yours.

Welcome to the blame game…”

Your Grouchy Friend defies any listener to resist getting swept up in that stuff. The song revolves around this great theme to excellent effect and there’s no doubt it’s a highlight of the album.

Singles “Chaos in Order” and “Dissent from Above” are likewise well arranged pieces, and one can see why they were released as singles. “Dissent From Above” with its main riff revolving around conspicuous natural harmonics is reminiscent of Pantera or Machine Head and a sure fire way to signal to a potential like minded audience.

But the finest works on the album come in the form of “The Torrents Fall” and the final two tracks “Rasstrelny” and “Revolutions.” The first of the three begins with the aforementioned arpeggio spread. It really does sound delicious on this track, with a slide lick that is a hook in and of itself, and sets up for the the comfortable thrash pace it settles into. This song brings a ton more quick and dexterous picking to the table, and the skipping , quick lines give the song an urgency and energy that exceeds some of the more comfortable groove-laden fare that permeates this release.

In similar fashion, “Rasstrelny” features a lovely intro full of texture and flavour through clean tones and effects that sets up for the hammer to fall. There is a feeling that these stylings are something the band could explore further, but it’s the visceral, thudding chug and end of line guitar flourishes that are the lynchpins of As Light Decays, and this song is steeped in both. Add in a chorus that is biting and hook laden and you really can’t go wrong with what is another stand out track.

“Revolutions” is a stomping and fitting finale to a very solid debut album. There is a greater ferocity in this piece, owing perhaps to the heavier influences espoused by some of the band members. The metronomic bass riff in this one sounds great, an example of how a simple line can do so much when executed tightly.

Criticisms of the album did come to mind: Rhyming couplets in places feel a little forced where perhaps a less obvious approach may have been beneficial. Like many a Metal band there is a sense in some tracks that while well constructed, there is the occasional passage that feels forced into place or extraneous. Perhaps that is just to this Grouchy ear – I urge you to take a listen and decide for yourself. This phenomenon is normally eliminated with time and song writing experience. There are countless examples throughout the history of the genre where bands refine their arrangements in the space from one cohort of songs to another, and so often this occurs in the period between first and second album. There is a feeling expressed within the band in their press releases that the best is yet to come – if this is the starting point, jump on for the ride because it is likely to be a wild one.

This is an Uber-Metal celebration. Like an old pair of jeans or your fave band shirt – it feels great to slip into and allow yourself to just enjoy. There is an interesting blend of styles and influences within this familiarity however, and “System of Division” is a damn fine album as a result. If you stopped a whisker or two short of extreme in your metal wandering, this could be just for you. Aggression, groove and pace wrapped in an intelligent lyrical package.

Rating: 4/5



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