We need to talk about Exocrine. No, really. Since forming in 2015 the French tech-death noisemongers have gone from strength to strength, culminating in 2018’s Molten Giant - a concept record about a giant kaiju monster bursting forth from a volcano and drowning the world in lava. Two years on and the band are releasing their fourth full-length, Maelstrom, a record encapsulating their love of the kaiju genre and this time featuring a giant kraken, synthwave and freeform jazz.
Kicking off with the blistering title track, Exocrine are here and they absolutely mean business - a short introductory riff followed by blastbeats and chugs quickly give way to Fallujah-esque melodic flourishes before these once more collapse into freefire blasting. So far, so tech death by numbers but well-executed and with hints of something special cropping up every so often - low synth notes make a brief appearance and there’s even some clean vocal highlights in the chorus that sadly never appear anywhere else on the record than the opening track. It’s toward the end of 'Maelstrom', however, that the band really show their chops for including off-kilter elements and folding them into the mix well, with synthwave licks that wouldn’t be out of place in Stranger Things before a tasteful solo appears atop rapid-fire chugs.
These elements are by no means the only string to Exocrine’s bow and though they are deployed to great effect (special mention to the middle section of ‘Abyssal Flesh’ that builds into a disgustingly vicious close), they have yet another trick up their collective sleeves. Right in the closing moments of ‘Wall of Water’, everything drops out bar sounds of the ocean and a trumpet. Yes, a fucking trumpet, playing freeform jazz licks before synths swell into ‘Abyssal Flesh’ and the death metal reappears. This isn’t just a one-off, either and it’s not at all without precedent - listen just a little more closely and this album is shot through with jazz influences, from ‘Orbital Station’ and its freewheeling guitar solo that sits atop a thoroughly weird time signature to the melodic flourishes, the transitions throughout the record and back again to improvisational trumpets (‘The Wreck’) with closer ‘Galactic Gods’ succeeding in melding all the various elements on display throughout to offer the pinnacle of the band’s vision.
In fact on repeat listens perhaps the most surprising element is just how well this all works together and how natural Exocrine make the jazz influences fit in. Tech death has a reputation for being calculated and precise - Maelstrom is definitely no exception - but the improvisational jazz influences clearly informed the entire writing process here. The band show meticulous craftsmanship in creating songs where precise demolition and free flowing brassy improv sit together naturally and the decidedly odd choice sets the album well and truly apart from its peers. The band successfully melds these disparate elements, along with synthwave and their penchant for brutality befitting their love of kaiju to create something truly special and ridiculously compelling.