Don’t be surprised if the first listen to Immortal Bird‘s Thrive On Neglect is a bit overwhelming. The Chicago death metal outfit deals in intensity above all else, their brand of heaviness marked by jagged, confrontational blasts that zig-zag through tempo-shifts, changing time signatures and stop-on-a-dime textural reconfigurations. They’re a band that’s capable of both ugliness and soaring melody in equal measure, usually within the same song, and often flecked with some other unexpected bits of debris or shrapnel. It’s not so much a thing to endure or unlock as it is a challenge to fully process everything that Immortal Bird throws at the listener. Individually, the pieces are alternately jarring and invigorating, but it’s only once the entire picture comes into view that it becomes apparent just how stunning of an accomplishment Thrive On Neglect truly is.
As a death metal band, Immortal Bird don’t subscribe to any outdated ideas of being a one-lane-only band. That idea is one that’s essentially been mostly abandoned with newer generations of metal bands, with many of the best metal records being made by groups that cast faithfulness to style by the wayside, and so it goes with Immortal Bird, who are almost as much a black metal band as they are a death metal band, and any number of other exercises in power and abrasion along the fringes. And that includes—probably to the detriment of a handful of fun-allergic dudes on the Internet—death ‘n’ roll. In fact, that’s how this whole thing starts. The riffs that kick off opening track “Anger Breeds Contempt” are raucous and righteous headbang and air-guitar fuel, the kind of beginning to a metal record that suggests the pummeling to come is likely to be served with a grin. But there’s a lot more to it than that—at the 2:18 mark, the drums drop out and what’s left behind, momentarily, is the kind of intricate jazz-math breakdown more likely to be found on a Gorguts record.
Immortal Bird aren’t necessarily miles apart from a band like Gorguts, whose M.O. has long favored making death metal out of the most labyrinthine path or complex means possible. But they’re also far from spiritual successors to that band, their most elaborate arrangements still most likely to lead toward a hook-laden melody or, at the very least, a highly satisfying moment of catharsis. “House of Anhedonia” is loaded with both, from Rae Amitay’s throat-burning opening screech to the climactic sequence of arpeggios that send the song skyward.
It’s a testament to Immortal Bird’s focus and strength of songwriting that these various ideas hold together so well, each song seemingly a suite unto itself—a dirge, an anthem and a ripper all wrapped up in the same five minutes of riffs and mayhem. And they often do so while showing off just how badass they are as musicians; to hear “Vestigial Warnings” is to witness a band able to turn an unusual, off-kilter rhythmic approach into something that could churn a massive, sweaty group into a frenzy.
This is, absolutely, music that intends to overwhelm. To hear a band like Immortal Bird live is to be able to lose oneself in the bursts of energy and anarchy that they wield so capably. But contrary to how music this intense is often perceived from the outside, it’s also rich in detail and nuance, a masterful document of chaos that contains so much richness in between the many climaxes. There’s no hearing Thrive On Neglect without having some kind of immediate reaction; the more rewarding experience is what happens on the next listen, the third one, and then the one after that.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.