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The first album by Necrophagist, 1999's Onset of Putrefaction, was actually a completely solo recording made by Turkish guitar prodigy Muhammed Suicmez, who also handled the vocals, bass guitar, and drum programming. Slowly but steadily, that album became legendary in the death metal underground for its over-the-top technical excess and death-defying guitar heroics. As a result of that notoriety, Suicmez was able to put together a full four-piece band of live musicians with enough skill and endurance to play his difficult, fast, and intricate compositions. Epitaph is the first album by this full lineup, and as expected, it features an almost nonstop assault of complex, technical death metal with an emphasis on Suicmez's lead guitar. And indeed, on a technical level, Necrophagist outpaces just about every death metal band out there, including the likes of Anata, Cephalic Carnage, and maybe even standard-setters Cryptopsy. The guitars race in tandem, delivering airtight 32nd and 64th note runs in odd time signatures, with flawless double-bass drumming and gurgling slap basslines underpinning it all. As technical as it is, this album is surprisingly melodic, with a mix of Gothenburg-tinged and neo-classical-type melodies weaving their way in and out of the stop-start rhythms. Meanwhile, Suicmez fills just about every available space with his legato, ultraclean, and controlled soloing. (Guitar buffs looking for a death metal version of Yngwie Malmsteen need look no further.) The vocals, which are not the featured instrument by any means, are generic but serviceable growls in the time-honored Cookie Monster style. The main drawbacks to this album are the overly clean production and mechanical, bordering-on-robotic musicianship. Listeners who prefer a few more rough edges to their death metal may tire of Epitaph after a few songs, or at least wish there were a few mistakes here and there to give it more of a human feel. However, fans of unapologetically technical death metal will eat it up.

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