Playgrounded – The Death of Death (2022)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/48 kHz | Time – 39:57 minutes | 493 MB | Genre: Metal
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Pelagic Records
Pelagic Records hold the final word when boasting rosters stacked with those foregoing the frontiers of musical limitation, both stalwarts and fresh faces alike. You only have to look at the likes of THE OCEAN, GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT, PSYCHONAUT and HIPPOTRAKTOR to find groups required to move the goalposts just to house their creative heft. 2022 finds another star. Greece-hailing prog-metal outfit PLAYGROUNDED have toiled amongst the underground far beyond what is due to them – an enlightening quintet that brings a refreshing meld of synths and strobes with the constant threat of deafening guitars. Following a brief release history – with a single LP and EP to decorate them – this year’s release of The Death Of Death should be the band’s overdue breakout from anonymity; a swift “hello!” to those unaware, before embedding themselves deep in the mind as violently as they execute their work.
But PLAYGROUNDED don’t operate on the same battlegrounds as their contemporaries, it’s not a total throat throttling of guitar magic and gutturals – it’s a different sort of violence. Instead, the aforementioned synth work can be described as the crux of the record’s aural impact, a multi-tool that bends the LP’s emotional palette with the wave of a hand, taking this prog metal venture to worlds of rushing anxiety, frantic terror and baffling serenity. This leaves The Death Of Death feeling unstable, often volatile, but PLAYGROUNDED tame this wild force with deft precision, and the final product is wonderfully versatile as opposed to feeling lost and directionless. Rituals, for instance, is a tale of looming tension – a title earned from its opening moments as an unsettling surge of synths buzzes like an agitated hive, their constant presence robbing the track of true respite to ensure listeners are practically shaking the moment they untether the track’s unholy breakdown.
Elsewhere, the electronics provide more uplifting notes. The blissful mid-point of Tomorrow’s Rainbow is elevated high by Orestis Zafeiriou’s warming handy work, whilst closing number Our Fire features one of the most creative synth implementations in recent memory. The track emulates a harrowing battlefield complete with cybernetic firefights and bomb strikes providing the haunting backdrop to Michael Kotsirakis’ chug-laden intro. These are mere examples from a plethora of instances but the end result is The Death Of Death’s intelligently woven connections of tension that are cyclically subdued and revived to which the band’s emphasis on synths and samples are indebted.
Despite their poignancy within the soundscape however, the electronics are but a single cog in PLAYGROUNDED’s impressive operation. The album is bolstered by the quintet’s unblemished show across the record’s six tracks and there isn’t a foot put wrong by anyone. Vocalist Stavros Markonis in particular gives a display equal parts chilling as it is soothing as he glides across these violent landscapes with intimate whispers and inspiring harmonies and easily sits among Pelagic’s canon of impressive pipes. Kotsirakis meanwhile is sparingly pronounced but maturely so; often used to shatter any sense of peace with a jarring chug like the album’s inception on The Swan. Otherwise, he is tucked well into the LP’s backbone with drummer Giorgos Pouliasis and bassist Odysseas Zafeiriou, the latter of whom provides a twang-weighed tone that prog heads will surely die for.
The band carries the heavyweight acts well with meditated songwriting as they have expressed many times before in their catalogue. The only grudge bearer would be The Road Out Of The Flood. It visits the same hallmarks as the others yet it can struggle under its own weight, a generous helping of its seven-minute runtime being focused on a sonically uninteresting mid-paced jam. A rare slip but the record easily still lands on its two feet when all is said and done.
This is a fine second outing for a band on the cusp of demolishing the wall of anonymity that stands between themselves and their deserved fame. The Death Of Death is intelligent, brooding and genuinely progressive. It stands to reason that PLAYGROUNDED could easily dominate the sub-genre’s diluted underbelly – their refreshing approach of electronics and palpable tension throughout giving them a precious watermark to protect. The potential dissection and praise here is endless but the important conclusion is that this record is, above all, truly special.
1-1. Playgrounded – The Swan (05:42)
1-2. Playgrounded – Rituals (07:17)
1-3. Playgrounded – The Death of Death (07:32)
1-4. Playgrounded – Tomorrow’s Rainbow (04:53)
1-5. Playgrounded – A Road out of the Flood (07:03)
1-6. Playgrounded – Our Fire (07:28)