Necrophagist seem to violate rule #1 of my aesthetic: they substitute for sheer pleasure (in metal, "headbanging") something not in-itself particularly enjoyable ("technicality"), and then dare the listener to discover the difference. We have just seen that in Cannibal Corpse, extreme gore lyrics, outlandish heaviness, and repetitive breakdowns all stand in (for the teenage listener) for the elements that in fact make quality death metal.
Is something being brought in, criteria-wise, through the back door, which in fact has nothing to do with catchiness, interest, and the joys of paying attention to metal?
Ultimately, I don't think so. Necrophagist, for all their noodling, have a primarily melodic intelligence. This is, in the last analysis, limited (they aren't the greatest band of all time). Until Necrophagist produces a song that is not bathed in the Necrophagist "glow," which is curiously inhuman, they will be only a minor band. But it is possible and enjoyable to follow these songs; they distinguish themselves (unlike Cannibal Corpse); the bag of tricks is ultimately also limited, but is already much greater than on the first album; and the melodic content of the best songs is rare in metal these days (since "melody" now only means At the Gates/Iron Maiden lead-riffage).
Irritating is that every song has to come to a dead stop and let some emotive chords substantially ring out, before the identical, overplayed guitar solo---as at :25 and 1:18 in "Stabwound." Best would be if the band could aim at some variety of effects; the classical music obviously beloved by the band surely could show the way here.
I'm basically ambivalent about this album. It's a fun listen, but for all the flare and obvious construction in these songs, they never approach the heights of similarly-"progressive" later Death, which is really the model for this stuff. Or should be. The whole aura, as intricate as it may be, is not really as "operatic" as Metallica's Ride the Lightning, and not really sweeping at all (no matter how much sweep-picking there may be). It is actually a very "micro" record, and this is of less interest.
score: 3 (***)/ 5 stars
Best songs: "Epitaph," "Only Ash Remains," "Symbiotic in Theory"