Oppressor
Solstice of Oppression (Reissue)

Technical death metal is almost a term that strikes immediate disappointment in my heart these days. Given the complete saturation of this sub-genre, along with the contemporary tendency to employ an over-produced sound, replete with Pro-Tools nuances, and favouring mechanical instrumental bravado over craftsmanship of a well-written piece of music, it is something I now tend to avoid.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still technical death metal bands out there doing a great job, but they are few and far between, almost lost in the ocean of a stagnant genre. Things weren’t always like this, back when the internet was something most people hadn’t even heard of there were bands pushing the death metal envelope in ways that left you wondering, “how the hell did they do that?”, without a YouTube guitar play through as a reference point. This was when the excitement was real, and Chicago’s Oppressor was one of those bands creating that excitement.

You may be forgiven for not remembering Oppressor, while they released three amazing albums in the 90s, they never quite got the recognition they deserved, whether it be through a lack of label promotion or a lack of self-promotion through the live circuit, I am not certain. What I am sure of is their small discography remains classic within death metal’s history, at a time when the genre was at its least popular. Many people would perhaps be more familiar with the band formed by three quarters of Oppressor’s line up, along with Broken Hope’s Shaun Glass after the band’s demise. Soil enjoyed moderate success and a heavy rotation on MTV in the early 2000s with their radio-friendly brand of hard rock, but that is just a side note.

Back to the band and release in question, Solstice of Oppression was first released in 1994 on Red Light Records to little fanfare. By this stage in time death metal already had its fair share of bands innovating beyond the boundaries of the now established sound. While the likes of Death, Pestilence, Atheist and Cynic had already made waves with more technical and unorthodox albums, often melding new techniques with influences outside of metal, there were also a handful of lesser-known bands following afterwards such as Europeans Phlebotomized, Disharmonic Orchestra and Pavor, and of course the USA’s Oppressor, all of which released equally as impressive albums as their more established peers. Where Solstice of Oppression stands out as a masterpiece of technical death metal is that it compromises none of the savagery or brutality that the genre was founded on in favour of the progressive and melodic touches of the jazz influences that are scattered throughout the album.

Instead of watering down the raw aggression of the music, these outside elements simply compliment and highlight it. The guitar work in particular is outstanding throughout, I can honestly say that from my memory this was the first time I had ever heard a metal band use a sweeping arpeggio outside of a solo and utilise it in a main riff (please correct me if there was something earlier), a technique which has now become a staple for technical death metal bands. This type of innovation alone is something that calls for Oppressor to be regarded as pioneers, even if their influence has spread far and wide beyond their original fan base, they should be credited with breaking down walls that many bands 20 years down the line never knew existed. I cannot stress enough how important this album was, and yes by today’s standards it sounds raw and unpolished, but it remains a milestone in the evolution of death metal. If you’re a fan of death metal, you should own this album!

This reissue is the first time Solstice of Oppression has ever appeared on vinyl, and has been lovingly presented by Repulsive Echo Records, who have been quietly doing a stellar job resurrecting hard to find and forgotten gems and re-releasing them in extremely well put together packages. Whether you are an existing fan of the band or a new one that needs to add this classic to your collection, I suggest you act quickly as there are only 250 pieces being produced. Catch it before it falls back into sublime obscurity!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Tom Blackwell
August 26th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: Jerry

    Man before I saw the record title I thought this was a new Oppressor and my heart almost stopped!


  2. Commented by: Nick K

    This band and album for me were extremely important. I remember seeing these guys for the first time when i was 16. This album is way ahead of it’s time and i think this review is spot on. Nicely done!


  3. Commented by: Tom B

    No such luck Jerry, we can only hope!
    Nick, I’m jealous you got to see them live, and thanks for the kind words.


  4. Commented by: Jerry

    You a Chicago guy? I saw them once. Agony kills this one for me though, although Solstice is much darker.


  5. Commented by: Nick K

    I saw them at the old Mirage in Minneapolis with Ton and Drogheda in like 95 or 96. Then on the first death across america tour with Nile, and Gorguts at 7th Street Entry.


  6. Commented by: Jerry

    Ton was very underrated.


  7. Commented by: Jerry

    Annnnnd apparently they put out a new record last month!


  8. Commented by: Will "BoneS" Lee

    Hey good review. I can remember when this came out and I marveled at the technicality at the time and it still had power and groove. I miss that. I feel some tech bands go a bit too overboard at times. Oh well I guess that’s why its “technical” death metal.


  9. Commented by: Zach

    Great album and band! I remember buying this on cassette when it was first released. A CLASSIC for sure.


  10. Commented by: Shane

    is this just a reissue? even as a young teen when this came out I shook my head at how insanely loud the vocals were in the mix. Hopefully someone does a half decent re-mix and re-master also and lets this record be heard as it should.
    Great record for sure, I still have the cassette….


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