Of the many stereotypes to have formed around metal music, the idea that death metal artists are locked into an infinite pissing contest to conceive the most repugnant, shocking or taboo band name possible is hard to rebut when groups like Dying Fetus exist. However, as contrived and overly-edgy as names such as these may seem at first glance, they serve their purpose. With countless classic death metal acts citing horror flicks as inspiration for their lyricism and general aesthetic, the very best bands that death metal has to offer have the ability to submerge the listener in their world of gore, guts and grime that, when boiled down to its core, retains an appeal that is undoubtedly similar to that of slasher films. This being said, there is most definitely a method to this attitude, and it also runs its risks. There requires a level of both depth, in order for the listener to suspend disbelief for the time that the recording is spinning, and self-awareness, as to not resort to the same clichés that are routinely employed by other death metal outfits, in a way that any listener who is well-versed in the genre will see straight through. Of course, this observation may be true for some metal fans, whilst others just want to hear a record’s worth of ripping riffs and be done with it. Either way, in both of these regards, tech-death legends Dying Fetus have had some hits and misses throughout their career. Having been around since the early 1990s, at the time wherein death metal acts were starting to take their technical experimentation to a new stylistic level entirely, it would be towards the end of the decade that Dying Fetus would contribute to the growing technical trend in death metal with albums like 1998’s Killing On Adrenaline. By the time of 2000’s Destroy The Opposition, the Maryland outfit had not only established the political edge to their music that would continue onto their subsequent output, but also their emphasis on hook-heavy song structures, oppressive breakdowns and a slight influence from grindcore, all of which came together to create a sound that, whilst far from boundary-breaking within the technical death metal paradigm, was undoubtedly their own. Courtesy of the continued compositional contributions from the core of the group and their sole constant member, John Gallagher, even drastic line-up changes that saw everyone bar the frontman himself replaced with newcomers didn’t see Dying Fetus lose their unique, angular edge, even if these personnel alterations yielded the odd underwhelming album. With their eighth and latest full-length studio effort, Wrong One To Fuck With, being the band’s third record to feature their current line-up, it would seem as if this incarnation of Dying Fetus is settled in rather nicely, and one would be right to assume this. The group’s newest endeavour stands out as being more cohesive and consistent than much of their recent material, with their musicianship being practically airtight throughout the entirety of the tracklisting. As has been the case with some of their previous projects, Wrong One To Fuck With may be somewhat of a one-trick pony, but the indecipherable detail and mind-boggling complexity of these compositions captures the charisma that gave Dying Fetus a slight footing above other acts of the same ilk in the first place.
At their best, Dying Fetus have been able to balance frenetic technicality, furious brutality, propulsive grooves and sticky hooks in a way that doesn’t necessarily prioritise one over the others, more than it sees a level playing field established for all of these elements. This has perhaps played a substantial role in maintaining Dying Fetus’ position as one of technical death metal’s biggest names, as their songwriting blueprint tends to appeal to a broad pool of tastes and, once again, the most successful moments across Wrong One To Fuck With strike this balance. The razor-sharp, rapid-fire riffs that introduce the opening song, Fixated on Devastation, cut through with a searing intensity, but act as a mere bait-and-switch, with the band abruptly bursting into the record’s first bone-crushing breakdown and the entry of Gallagher’s oppressive vocals. The frontman’s punctuated, bellowing snarls continue to capture the classic death growl style perfectly, whilst he displays impressive control over his voice, as his gnarled gurgles intensify along with the expansion of the rest of the instrumentation. The linear compositional approach that is often employed by Dying Fetus works very much to their advantage on cuts like Fixated on Devastation, with the groove-focussed second verse propelling the track towards the explosive tempo increase of the song’s latter half, releasing the tension built up in the previous section in an incredibly satisfying fashion.
Reveling in the Abyss toys with tension in a similar manner, with the first verse being one of the most savagely sluggish sections across the entirety of Wrong One To Fuck With, which is only bolstered by its heavy emphasis on bruising triplet accents and scorching guitar slides. As Trey Williams’ work from behind the drum kit begins to fill out the space in the phrasing more and more, a slight sense of suspense starts to boil, which comes to a point as the band launches into one of the most abrasive explosions of pure grindcore power at any point on the album. Die With Integrity is similarly commanding, with the blunt accents between passages battering the listener with sheer force, much in the same vein as the breakneck tempo changes on Seething With Disdain. With the tortuous structures that practically all of these songs assume, some tracks are perhaps in need of some more pronounced, recurring musical themes to ground all of their twists and turns within a palpable, cohesive whole. For the most part, however, Dying Fetus execute the many technical pirouettes across the course of Wrong One To Fuck With with great dexterity, and in a way that seldom interrupts the fluidity of any of these songs, despite how convoluted they can be.
Although there may be a lack of stylistic diversity across the course of Wrong One To Fuck With, the conscious effort made by Dying Fetus to pepper the tracklisting with an admirable amount of compositional variation makes for an album that, whilst somewhat one-dimensional, maintains the listener’s full attention throughout. Weaken the Structure, despite its title, bears one of the strongest songwriting structures on the entire record, with just about every single one of Dying Fetus’ best traits being translated in some format or another over the course of the track’s runtime. Following one of the most dramatic, tension-building introductions on Wrong One To Fuck With, complete with a flashy but classy guitar solo from Gallagher, the outburst of tremolo-picking and some of Williams’ most relentless blast beats makes for a hefty slab of pure death metal muscle. With the catchy accents of the chorus section leading into an incredibly gratifying, groove-heavy beat switch, the vocal contributions of both Gallagher and bassist Sean Beasley, with his slightly higher growls, see some satisfying interplay amidst the song’s ceaseless toing and froing. Likewise, the breakdown-heavy Panic Amongst the Herd — which weaves through too many technicalities at times to even begin to explain in detail — employs Beasley’s upper range roars for a big impact, as they lash out as the track reaches maximum velocity. Undoubtedly, Wrong One To Fuck With would benefit from a degree of variety that extends beyond admittedly compelling compositional quirks, but for the limited stylistic scope of their sound, Dying Fetus do a lot with a little, and have produced a particularly diverse record based on their songwriting capabilities alone.
For a genre with such a rigid characterisation, the extent to which Dying Fetus manage to balance its many points of appeal is often what has given the band an edge over their contemporaries, and Wrong One To Fuck With is a prime example of this. Whether one is seeking heavy hooks, gut-busting grooves, rapid riffage or serpentine song structures, Dying Fetus come with the full package. As much as the one-dimensionality issue may be unavoidable at times, the chances that this will affect the replay value of the album is surely limited, given just how unpredictable Wrong One To Fuck With can be and the amount of time that would be needed to completely make sense of its labyrinth. Few modern outfits capture the classic tech-death sound like Dying Fetus do on Wrong One To Fuck With, let alone with this level of compositional prowess and musicianship, with this album reaffirming the group as an authority on metal music like few other releases of theirs have done in recent memory.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10