When knowledge isn’t power
I suppose Temple of Knowledge demonstrates a couple of things – for one, all the passion and technical ability in the world mean absolutely nothing without taste. It also demonstrates that flaws can come in all different shapes and sizes – sometimes an album is a grand failure due to a whole host of negative qualities coalescing into something diabolical, and other times as demonstrated here a singular flaw can be so massive it utterly ruins an album. There is plenty of praise to give to Temple of Knowledge, and on paper it only really suffers in two departments – but the music is so wounded by these flaws the album manages to be one you can skip out entirely.
This is a straight-ahead death metal album instrumentally, and a very technical one at that. The music walks a very fine line between incoherent and highly technical. Every song is loaded with riffs, with every track shifting between them every few seconds – they range from having a dark undercurrent of melody to being more straightforward and thrashy to being more orthodox and atonal to being more grooving and bouncy. Regardless of style however the riffs here are consistently memorable and strong and keep the energy of the songs up, and the variation in styles stops the album from running together or a song from stagnating or becoming one-note. The drumming is similarly active, with the drum performance here being loaded with fills, blasting, double-bass and more conventional straight beats to suit the riffs and pace of the song. This consistently shifting instrumentation is a demonstration of incredible restraint and songwriting talent on the band’s part, with nothing ever devolving into a total mess or losing focus. A song will flow from A to B in a chaotic but ultimately structured and coherent fashion, going through enough twists and turns to qualify the music here as being progressive. On an instrumental level this is a truly savage and ruthlessly aggressive effort, but getting past this is where it falls down. A minor quibble I have is the production; everything sounds dry and flat, the guitars sound muted and the drums and vocals are a little too loud. Certainly, this doesn’t sound nearly as heavy or crisp as Sorcery did, which is a shame as it doesn’t do the material here justice. While the riffs are aggressive and strong the guitar tone saps them of their impact somewhat, and the guitars are buried a bit by the rest of the band.
To get to the elephant in the room however – Sylvain Houde sounds like garbage. Euphemisms like ‘insane’, ‘psychotic’ and ‘inhuman’ get thrown about when describing his performance here and in sense that’s true – you’d have to be utterly insane to record vocals this poor and consider them worthy of being on a studio release. He pukes, rants and growls incoherently over every last second of the album with no restraint, taste or regard for timing; he totally throws off the coherency of the music by endlessly ranting over it. Compounding his lack of timing is that multiple vocal tracks are frequently used, with growls being layered with shrieks or rasps in such a way that the vocals have even less of a sense of timing. His performance itself is very weak too – his low growls sound haggard, his rasps sound thin and strained and these are accompanied by occasional utterly comical sounding yelps and similarly weak hardcore barks (these sound especially horrible when he tries to throw in a vocal melody of some description.) Admittedly he isn’t helped by the dry sound of everything but at the end of it all he still sounds terrible, and as he’s mixed so loudly and never shuts up his voice is totally inescapable. He sounds so bad he turns what could have been a stellar and savage slab of death metal into a mess, as well as burying the guitars due to the mixing. He turns the album from being something that has to be endured for the right reasons to being an endurance test for all the wrong ones.
I can appreciate that people might enjoy the vocals for what they represent – unhinged insanity – which makes how they sound easier to stomach, and that combined with the incredibly savage and no-holds-barred instrumentation it would make for a unified package, but it just isn’t doing it for me. There’s no way around the fact he sounds utterly terrible by any measure and honestly no amount of excusing his performance as ‘brutal’ and ‘insane’ will change that. This album has many merits, but its major flaw is so fundamental and inescapable that it becomes a complete write-off.