The California Bay Area has long been a home to some of the most technical death metal around. The slow but inevitable dissolution of Necrophagist, the continuing studio hiatus of Odious Mortem, and the folding of Spawn Of Possession and more recently Brain Drill has acted as a catalyst for the formation of several domestic and international supergroups. Continuum from Santa Cruz was formed in 2009 by sometime Decrepit Birth guitarist Chase Fraser and is home to former members from Brain Drill, Inanimate Existence, and post-Jacoby Kingston Deeds Of Flesh. After several years of incubation Continuum debuted in 2015 with “The Hypothesis”. “Designed Obsolescence” harkens back to the halcyon days of pre-2005 when Unique Leader was a boutique label specialized in death metal exclusively. With Inherit Disease no longer under contract, Continuum is hellbent on replacing them as the label’s flagship act.
Fraser has surrounded himself with quite the talent. Riley McShane is also in Allegaeon and fronted Inanimate Existence for an album, Ivan Munguia has played with Odious Mortem, Nick Willbrand has recorded an album with Flesh Consumed, and Ron Casey is probably the most in-demand drummer of the last decade and a half. He, like Munguia, was involved with Brain Drill and appeared on their “Quantum Catastrophe”. With an assembly of this caliber “Designed Obsolescence” could’ve easily succumbed to masturbatory excess and egocentric indulgence, yet somehow it never does. Fraser is able to rein in everybody’s showboating tendencies and everything is always in service of the song. The only somewhat puzzling choice is placing Ivan Munguia on rhythm - instead of bass guitar. Willbrand is certainly up for the task but he’s no Jeroen Paul Thesseling, Linus Klausenitzer, Steve DiGiorgio, Michael Poggione, Erlend Caspersen, Giulia Pallozzi, or Éric Langlois. Which doesn’t make Continuum any less than a gathering of local mega talent and something that sounds right at home next to Omnihility, Equipoise, and latter-day Decrepit Birth as well as Canadian acts Augury, Beyond Creation, and First Fragment. For better or worse, Continuum is very much a product of its time.
Continuum takes more than a page or two from now-defunct Swedish act Spawn Of Possession and the shadow of “Cabinet” and “Noctambulant” looms large over “Designed Obsolescence”. Fraser and his men give it enough of a Californian flavor and his soloing is more than a little reminiscent of somebody like Jonas Bryssling. McShane for the most part sounds like Obie Flett from Inherit Disease but tends to alternate more between highs and lows. The swelling orchestral flourish in ‘Designed Obsolescence’ is a nice little touch that immensely enhances the atmosphere. The concept isn’t whole that novel as Soreption did it earlier on “Engineering the Void” in 2014 and bands as Fleshgod Apocalypse and Scrambled Defuncts have made it their entire raison d'être. ‘All Manner Of Decay’ is custodian to probably the best solo of the record. The bass guitar is felt more than heard but is allowed slightly more space in ‘Autonomic’. ‘Repeating Actions’ concludes with the same riff that opens ‘Theorem’ thus creating a semblance of inter-track continuity. The stars of Continuum are definitely Chase Fraser and drummer Ron Casey. The more progressive setup gives Casey is far more freedom to flex his muscles, whereas the narrow confines of Brain Drill restricted what he could do behind the kit. The Pär Olofsson artwork really drives home how apt the Spawn Of Possession comparisons are. At this point you’d imagine the scene having on moved on from Olofsson. Apparently not. For a band as forward-thinking as Continuum it’s surprising that they haven’t discovered Guang Yang, Aditia Wardhana, César Eidrian, Federico Musetti, Dusan Markovic, Monte Cook, or Johnson Ting yet.
It’s not so much a question about ability, either individually or collective, but whether Continuum will be able to differentiate itself enough from competition, foreign and domestic. While there are some mild New Age textures and sparse orchestral enhancements it remains to be seen how and if Continuum will be able to differentiate itself from similar acts as Inanimate Existence, and post-“Procreating An Apocalypse” Inherit Disease. Inanimate Existence is aesthetically different enough through its New Age spirituality imagery and Inherit Disease were among the earlier to push a dystopian futurist and technology-based lyrical concept. Not that that was in any way novel in and of itself. There was after all a little band called Fear Factory who did it earlier than anyone else. The concept of “designed obsolescence” has been commonplace in industrial design and economics for several decades and concerns the intentional planning of a product to become obsolete within a set timeframe as to generate long-term sales volume by repeat purchases of said product. The lyrics about the omnipresence of technology, artificial intelligence, the singularity, and the loss of identity in the digital matrix are interesting and certainly eloquent enough. There’s certainly something slightly ironic about an album title like this when Continuum is one among many such ventures and one bound to tie itself to a certain time-period.
Unique Leader remains one of the most reliable houses of quality death metal, although they arguably lost some of their luster when they started signing deathcore en masse. Continuum is as good as anything from the Unique Leader stable and that they sound like one or two bands that used to be on the label is probably not just a happy coincidence. As a product of the death metal arms race “Designed Obsolescence” sounds like a throwback to the bygone days of 2004-2005 when technical death metal was really taking flight as a genre after the release of “Epitaph” from Necrophagist. In fact Necrophagist would come to define the next decade even if they never came around to releasing that eagerly anticipated third album. Perhaps it is that drives bands like Continuum, the urge to fill that void left by Germany’s last important death metal band. It’s not a bad spot to be in, anyway. With the promotion department of Unique Leader behind them the best is yet to come for Continuum. Here’s hoping they further expand on what they’re pushing here. There’s potential aplenty, for sure.