The last time we saw Alchemy of Flesh around these parts, the project was peddling video game-themed Floridian death metal, and good video game-themed Floridian death metal at that. Tim Rowland is the one man behind this one-man band, and he impressed me with Alchemy of Flesh’s debut record, Ageless Abominations, a record that leaned heavily on Rowland’s love of all things Morbid Angel. Just a little over two years later, Rowland and Alchemy of Flesh are back, this time promising an experience that is “a lot more intense and demanding.” Forged during a trying period in Rowland’s life, By Will Alone still features a couple of video game references but also delves into some topics from Eastern religion. This turn towards the philosophical is fitting given Rowland’s hailing from that great center of thought and enlightenment: Athens…Georgia. Let’s see if By Will Alone can achieve a higher state of being.
While the overall style employed by Alchemy of Flesh hasn’t changed much—we’re still looking at heavy doses of Morbid Angel, Monstrosity, and Hate Eternal here—there’s been a shift in the sense of urgency with which it is played. The vast majority of the songs on By Will Alone channel the frantic energy of Morbid Angel’s early records, as opposed to the chunkier, more mid-paced Gateways style of Ageless Abominations—and I’m all about it. Opener “Meteor Hammer” strikes as fast and as hard as the weapon for which it is named, with Rowland’s riffs weaving serpentine forms beneath his mighty growls. The track is a great example of what the album has in store, so get over here and have a listen—it’ll tell you all you need to know.
Rowland’s focus on speed and intensity leads to some incredible moments across By Will Alone’s runtime. “Earth Dragon Totality” is one of my favorite tunes here, demonstrating just how skilled Rowland is across the board. The overall songwriting contains powerful transitions and tempo changes, the instrumental performances are top-notch, and Rowland’s vocal talent seals the deal as he spews the chorus into our faces. At two minutes, “Unmaker” contains some of the most intense riffing to be found on the album (especially the final 30 seconds), while its follow-up “Immuration” dials up a heaping helping of groove, a musical characteristic that I find vitally important in my death metal. Closer “Origin of Suffering” feels like a bookend to opener “Meteor Hammer” as the Morbid Angel influence is especially palpable in both.
Overwhelming force is By Will Alone’s greatest strength, and a mid-album dip in urgency ends up being its greatest weakness. “Labyrinthine Fortress” and “Erratic Existence” hit back-to-back, and they both employ slower tempos. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with a change of pace on an album full of barnburners, but this foray into slower territory overstays its welcome, mostly due to the six-minute “Erratic Existence.” The track’s slow tempo, combined with some attempts at a more melodic form of death metal, makes for an awkward loss of momentum. If that track had been cut we’d be looking at a lean and mean death metal machine that would easily warrant a 3.5 or higher thanks to songs like “Meteor Hammer,” “The Godhead of Self,” “Earth Dragon Totality,” “Unmaker,” and “Immuration.”
A shift towards more serious lyrical content and a larger reliance on speed have only served to strengthen Alchemy of Flesh’s take on bread and butter (or is it bread and Buddha, now?) death metal. Two albums in, Tim Rowland has demonstrated that he’s a phenomenally talented man, and if he can continue to refine the Alchemy of Flesh sound, he’ll eventually release a true world-beater. But for now, let’s enjoy By Will Alone for what it is: another solid death metal release from the year that keeps on giving.