SARMAT – Determined to Strike Review

They say you can never have too much of a good thing. But they’re wrong.  Everything eventually becomes stale. As the age-old complaint/joke about technical death metal highlights, there is definitely such thing as too technical and complex. While it differs from person to person, everyone has a threshold beyond which music stops being enjoyable due to its dissonance, technicality, and complexity. With this preamble, I introduce New York progressive technical death metal group SARMAT, whose debut Determined to Strike is likely to approach if not leap beyond the threshold of many listeners. Knowing that Oleg Zalman—who recently joined Artificial Brain—takes half of the guitar duties; that Steve Blanco of Imperial Triumphant makes an appearance to provide bass and piano; and that Colin Marston mastered it might give you a clue as to what you’re getting yourself in for. The further knowledge that this also comes packed with more guest musicians on trumpet and saxophone—one of whom, Jerome Burns, also performed trumpet on White Ward’s False Light—will either make you want to exit this page with greater haste, or read on with still more voracious hunger. Oh, and it’s on I, Voidhanger too, if that wasn’t already obvious.

If you take the free-jazz-inspired mania of Imperial Triumphant and channel it through Gorguts’ brutality, you get something like Determined to Strike. This is a challenging listen, but kind of fun, if you’re into that. The album unravels as it progresses. Beginning with the (relatively) comprehensible, but still ultra-technical, “Formed from Filth,” and closing with the largely borderless avant-garde nightmare that is—the very well-titled—”Disturbing Advances.” After many listens, it’s unclear whether this is an intentional slide into the insane, or the fact that music this dense, hyperactive, and strange very quickly becomes exhausting. At its most ‘death metal’ moments there is a semblance of groove (“Formed…,” “Landform,” title track), and one could possibly pick out a passage of any of these six songs, get lucky with some straightforward tech death assault, and think “it’s not that weird.” But these standard disso-death sections never last long, as SARMAT seem determined to assault and bamboozle.

I cannot overstate just how impenetrably technical, how confoundingly complex, how bafflingly Byzantine this gets. Ridiculous peregrinating guitar solos are one thing (“Formed…,” “Enervated,” “Disturbing…”). Trumpet and saxophone cadenzas that go still deeper into the realm of ‘what-the-fuck’-ery (“Arsenal of Tyranny,” title track, “Disturbing…”) are quite another. This is obviously a metal album, but it’s not because of the metallic elements that it’s as inaccessible as it is—though the blastbeats and dissonant scales certainly help. As hinted, it’s the jazz instrumentation, and the free-jazz approach more broadly, that lands Determined to Strike firmly in the camp of the truly experimental. This style, playing fast and loose with the concept of composition, sometimes falls within the realm of thrillingly manic (“Formed…,” “Landform”), yet rapidly encroaches into overwhelming (particularly on “Arsenal…” and “Disturbing”). The percussive and guitar or trumpet-led rhythms rarely dance in time with one another (“Enervated,” “Disturbing…”), and the vocals range from a deep gurgle to a terrifying high shriek. But these vocals appear relatively rarely, as this is largely instrumentally-led. A factor which only serves to intensify the nausea of placelessness brought on by so many colliding, interchanging tempos and dizzying scales.

I’ve barely scraped the surface, because Determined to Strike’s surface is more churned up than a river full of frenzied piranhas. Musically anyway, because this sounds crisp as anything, with every slide into lounge jazz (“Disturbing…”) beautifully smooth, and every note of wacky instrumentation clear as day. A package that should be a mess ends up artful—though definitely on the Jackson Pollock rather than the Michelangelo end of the spectrum. Even when things seem calm—the DHG-esque piano opening “Landform,” for instance—they’re unsettling. And when they’re aggressive, they’re more stressful than exhilarating. As a result, this barely-thirty-five-minute album can be something of a grueling listen. But it would be a lie to say that it’s not also jaw-droppingly impressive, and for many, this provides all the enjoyment they need.

Determined to Strike is hard to score. If you like Imperial Triumphant, and you thought the latest DHG wasn’t heavy or wacky enough, this is probably right up your street. Determined to Strike is brilliant, in its own way, but SARMAT could benefit from honing their protean skills into compositions a little more navigable to give them the punch they deserve to possess.

Rating: Good
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records | Bandcamp
Releases Worldwide: June 16th, 2023

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