It's not really possible to discuss death metal without bringing up the state of Florida. In the early '90s, Floridians Morbid Angel, Deicide, Obituary and Death ravaged the underground with a twisted new evolution of metal that would eventually spread across the globe.
In the intervening decades, the cutting edge of the genre has relocated overseas in Scandinavia, where cruel guitar wizardry reigns supreme to this day. Stateside, though, a small but dedicated group of metal innovators has continued to soldier on into a new generation, seeking to prove, perhaps, that you can't kill what's already dead.
Abiotic is a fresh-faced new band of long-haired youngsters poised to carry the Florida death-metal torch lit by Death's legendary guitarist Chuck Schuldiner onward. We caught up with guitarist Johnathan Matos this week ahead of the band's headlining gig at Walter's on Sunday to ask about that legacy.
"Death is a huge influence on every single one of us, I can say," he says. "I've been listening to Death since I first picked up a guitar and I still listen to them every day. The composition, dark riffing style, and jazzy-type sections, among other things, have really had a huge impact on us."
Hailing from Miami, the histrionic five-piece is currently trekking across the country to drum up awareness for its debut album on Metal Blade, a label that knows a thing or two about breaking up-and-comers. The new record, Symbiosis, reeks of Death from start to finish, but Schuldiner isn't the only influence apparent. Abiotic's intricately wretched guitar passages often give way suddenly to neck-snapping hardcore breakdowns, leading to some carefully crafted descriptors of the group's maddening sound.
"When we're asked what kind of music we play, we like to answer with technical death metal," Matos says. "Now, every kid on the Internet with an opinion is going to say something different, and we don't mind it at all.
"Some kids like to call us 'deathcore,' some like to call us prog or whatever, but at the end of the day we like to play heavy, technical and melodic music, so I say that's the best way to describe it."
The ten tracks on Symbiosis are heavy, technical and melodic, indeed. The Luciferian shrieking of vocalist Ray Jimenez tie together brutal riffs, bizarre interludes and intricate, Lovecraftian guitar solos on songs such as "Facades" and "Vermosapien." Complex rhythmic interplay borrowed from Meshuggah keep them from dragging as the track times regularly stretch past six minutes.
In short, there's more to Abiotic's music than screaming and riffing. Matos and his fellow seven-stringer Matt Mendez are budding guitar heroes, striving to create metallic leads the likes of which haven't been heard before rather than simply trying to shred faster and heavier than the competition. Consequently, the band sounds as though it's helping to chart the genre's future, not simply paying tribute to the past.
"It is definitely a challenge to reproduce these songs on stage, but I wouldn't have it any other way," Matos said. "I feel like it really pushes all of us as musicians to make sure we continue to progress. When we're home we practice five to six times a week to make sure we're as tight as we can possibly be live. We're all used to sore fingers and forearms, for sure!"
Sunday will mark Abiotic's first trip to Houston in the band's two-year history, but Matos says they're already booked to return soon. Clearly, the band is rising fast. Best to check them out sooner rather than later, so that when they're standing on top of the U.S. death metal scene 10 years from now you can brag that you saw 'em back when they were unknowns. The first step in that conquest, Sybiosis, drops October 22.
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"We've got some shows coming up with Six Feet Under, Cannibal Corpse and Veil of Maya as well as our CD release shows down in Florida," Matos said. "We're excited to hit the road in support of Symbiosis and show the metal scene what we have to offer!"
With Sea of Treachery, Float Face Down and the Burial, 8 p.m. Sunday at Walters, 1120 Naylor