Technical death metal mainstays Origin formed in Topeka, Kansas towards the end of the 1990s and made their album debut in 2000 on Relapse with a self-titled effort that set a new bar for a genre where pushing limits is the name of the game. Combining the brutal twin-guitar attack of Paul Ryan and Jeremy Turner with drummer John Longstreth’s high-tempo polyrhythms atop of Doug Williams‘ vibrating steel-cable bass, perhaps the most striking elements of that record are the triple death growls (by Ryan, Turner and Mark Manning—one each for the the high, mid and low parts) and the songwriting chops: Origin is brimming with ideas, with most of its nine tracks comprising multiple parts and timings, with often syncopated, skipping beats against the chugging guitars.
Even though they made no bones about the use of technical assistance, such as drum triggers, to achieve that record’s intensity, there’s enough of the players’ own skill in the finished product’s groove-laden fluidity to make it a true genre classic. However, following that album, and the band’s switch to an emphasis on technicality over rhythm, that strange alchemy that still makes their debut so special was lost.
Second album Informis Infinitas Inhumanitas, released in 2002, was produced with most of the same players (James Lee and Mike Flores replaced Manning and Williams on vocals and bass, respectively) but makes its title all too literal, coming over like a robot cover band. The hyper-technical riffing and lockstep machine-gun drums lack any real sense of being played by humans, a notion compounded by the airless production (compare this record’s re-recording of “Mental Torment,” a track from their debut, with the far superior original). Moreover, the songs just aren’t there, the restless invention of before eschewed for more pedestrian brutal blasts that blur from one to the next. Fine if you’re into that kind of thing, but in light of their previous work it sounded like a devolution.
That devolution continued on 2005’s Echoes of Decimation (with Ryan the only member from the original lineup on the record) as widdly arpeggios became the focus at the expense of songcraft. But there were glimmers of the Origin of old on 2008’s Antithesis (with Turner back in the fold temporarily, plus some added crunch to the guitars) and 2011’s Entity. The latter album was their first for Nuclear Blast, and their first made as a trio—just Ryan, Flores and Longstreth. It splits the difference between flashy technicality and welcome variety in its song structures.
Three years on from there, and with new vocalist Jason Keyser (from New York death metal crew Skinless) in tow, Origin‘s sixth album, Omnipresent, looks to the past as much as the future, recapturing some of the debut’s alchemy even as it doubles down on the technical aspects. (Buy it from Amazon.)
Arpeggiated riffage and pinch harmonics are all over this record’s 12 tracks, but Origin have got their groove back, too, with opener “All Things Dead” slipping gears with ease between mid-tempo pummel and hyper-fast blast, occasionally stopping dead for emphasis. Ryan’s guitar sounds utterly monstrous on this and even more frantic and brutal numbers “Thrall Fulcrum Apex” (clocking in at 68 seconds) and the explosive, syncopated “Manifest Desolate.” Better still, Longstreth’s shifting percussive patterns on “The Absurdity of What I Am” transcend the mechanical battery of his augmented kit. In short, Origin sound like human beings again.
Credit the band for their vastly improved songwriting—there’s even a touch of D-beat via the punked-out deathgrind of “Redistribution of Filth”—but a hat-tip must go to Colin Marston (of Krallice, Dysrhythmia, Gorguts and more) for handling a beefy mix that pulls the vocals to the foreground while maintaining a palpable separation between the growls, riffs and beats. Omnipresent breathes as it bludgeons, both audibly in the mix and with smart sequencing that spaces apart its heavy blows with shorter instrumental pieces, guitar-shop workout “Permanence” (the weakest track in this set), the keyboard-backed guitar arpeggios of “Continuum,” and “Obsolescence,” with its cosmic synth washes preceding a tension-building intro to the strong closing combo of “Malthusian Collapse” (which if not for the pinch squeals could pass for an outtake from their debut) and “The Indiscriminate,” which jerks between lurching deep-space drift and warp-speed shots across the cosmos that’ll tighten your chest. After all that, it’s a relief not only to take a deep breath but to know Origin have made such a good record.