At every turn of the page and click of the mouse, the internet drops New Jersey’s Replicant further into a pigeonhole. Foremost is the ongoing, but expected, references to Blade Runner. Ridley Scott and Company created a masterpiece and extreme music’s referencing of the improbable and darkened side of life, whether it be on the streets or on celluloid, is commonplace. So, the connections and comparisons are understood. The tech-death tag has been quickly attached to the band’s brand of noise as well. While the descriptive simplicity of the terminology may be obvious, it is also extremely limiting. It strips the band’s soul and ignores the nuances that make Negative Life much more than a complex piece of rigidly structured virtuosity.
If anything, this trio’s debut album deconstructs tech-death; picking apart its elements from the inside-out, incubating and keeping the subgenre’s traits warm in the palm of their collective hand before lightly tossing the balled up components aloft, and smacking them towards the fences with a custom-made New Brunswick Slugger. Where tech-death has pushed towards exacting, note-perfect precision and antiseptic sonic cleanliness, Replicant manages to fly a studied flag while tapping a primordial vein. Their emotional expression moves beyond socially awkward savants, meticulously mathematicians, or cold serial killers. Instead, Replicant is unafraid to show a bit of soul, try a little tenderness, and exhibit foibles like regular ol’ human beings.
“ADRA2B” starts with a lurching salutation to Gorguts’ Obscura with side-winding guitars and a twanging bass nestled neatly in the mix. There are many elements and intricacies to the sequences of this song: whammy bar dive bombs simultaneously allude to ‘80s thrash and lunkhead slam; the tempo changes recall fellow Jersey-ites Burnt by the Sun/River Black; the bits and bobs of extraneous guitar offer signs of skittering life. Most of all, the drums don’t sound like a phalanx of typewriters. The natural tone Matt Thompson plays with may warm the cockles of hearts, but blemishes become noticeable. Those blemishes, however, work as an inextricable part of the overall essence.
“Inescapable Grief” is an exemplary example of the three members moving as a unit. The main thrust is a couple of spidery riffs basted together. Yet, the time and tempo changes, collective accenting, ride cymbal patterning, guitar harmonics, and other forms of connective songwriting tissue feel like something taken from a finely honed playbook. There’s room for the music to breathe. The occasional kick drum flub and imperfect note strike amid the chaos give the music life.
There’s split-second lurching between palm-muted chugging and spacious chord washes introducing “Oceans of Dust” that create a feel as organic as a backyard compost heap. The rest of the song, which collides classic Cephalic Carnage with Obituary, drips with so much authenticity and live-off-the-floor energy that it's difficult to be dismissive of the utterly misguided solo section and knuckle-dragging fade out. Instead, I become curious about the recording process; what silent communication signals they utilize, the creative process that allows them to be on the spot impressed with one another and the stupid smiles traded while kicking out the jams.
As well, Replicant isn’t afraid to barter with good taste in the execution of outré parts. Only their minds and ears know whatever the hell “The Frail” is supposed to be. But an instrumental that’s part-Ulcerate dirge, B-movie soundtrack, and Star Trek Foley track isn’t supposed to populate the realms of tech-death seriousness. However, the most classic works are also the most polarizing, ridiculous and irreverent. And the way “The Frail” blends into “Sewing Seed into Dead Soil”s pungent crawl makes as much sense as it’s ever going to.
There are spots on Negative Life where you’d wish the movements between parts wasn’t so drastic and abrupt. Or that they’d stick with, or capitalise upon, unconventional elements like the slicing harmonics in the early sections of “Shroud” which recall early Voivod and another gang of Garden Staters, Human Remains. Some of the songwriting decisions are also frustrating non-sequiturs than subtract concise value (“Spit into the Void” and that uncalled for drop off in “Shroud”).
My positive and visceral reaction to the organic quality of the album goes to show there’s something awry with the state of recorded music these days. Some of Replicant’s more polished and digitally dependent contemporaries might look down their noses at the band for issuing what in the modern world’s mind is a high-quality preproduction session. But at the very least, this New Brunswick, NJ band – in case you didn’t get the baseball bat reference – has offered up some sentiment with their incisive insanity and created an album to combat ennui and ear fatigue.