Do you remember the first time you listened to extreme metal — of any genre? Do you remember which band it was? I bet you do. I know I do.
For me, in terms of my musical tastes, it was like I was traveling on a train and someone flipped a switch without warning and shunted the car onto a side track that headed off at a sharp angle into an entirely different landscape. The band that flipped the switch for me was In Flames. It could have been some other band, because it was a pretty random experience, but that’s who it was.
The music was so different from anything else I’d heard. It was like I’d unwittingly reached out and grabbed a live power line — it sent a current bolting through and just torched my head. I wouldn’t have been surprised if my hair had started smoking. That combination of fast, powerful aggression with harsh vocals and catchy, melodic hooks was completely arresting. I went off down that side track and never came back to the main line.
Since then, I’ve gotten into other kinds of music that’s more extreme than In Flames — certainly more extreme than what In Flames has become in recent years — but probably because of that first experience, melodic death metal is still what grabs me the hardest, and when I hear it done right, it still gets me charged up like nothing else.
Last week I listened to the latest album from a Parisian band called Fractal Gates, and it reminded me of what I felt the first time I listen to In Flames — not because Fractal Gates is an In Flames knock-off, but because they’ve succeeded so well in combining dark, threatening power with soaring melodies to produce a galvanizing result. (more after the jump, including a song to hear, and some very interesting album art . . .)
Fractal Gates was formed in 2005 by two guys (Stéphane Peudupin and Sebastien Pierre) who had played together in a French doom act called Inborn Suffering. It’s obvious that they and the other band members they assembled went off down a side track of their own and never returned to the main line they’d been traveling.
The latest album, Altered State of Consciousness, has been out for almost a year, but I hadn’t heard of it or of this band until my NCS collaborator IntoTheDarkness pushed me to listen last week. The album contains 14 songs, but five of those are synthesized instrumental tracks that serve as demarcation points in the music and that underscore the sci-fi oriented concept behind the album — which is a tale of an apocalyptic future in which human minds escape into the depths of space, eventually to discover that they are not alone . . . and never have been.
The remaining songs are mainly mid-paced mixes of driving rhythms and arcing, echoing guitars, deep harsh vocals, ominous whispers, and arresting melodies. At different times, the musical style reminds me of other bands — mainly Swedish and Finnish — with Insomnium being the one that most strongly comes to my mind. On the other hand, the album isn’t an exercise in mimickry. The band pays homage to their melodeath forefathers without becoming copycats.
Darkness blankets much of the music on the album, in part because of the vocal style and tone, and in part the result of the brooding atmosphere created by the melodies. On some songs there’s an even more overtly prog/doom and black-metal influence in the sound (most evident on the slow, atmospheric song called “Departure”) — but those ringing guitar leads and reverb-effected solos are never far away. They constantly pull you back from the edge of the abyss and send your mind out toward those gleaming nebulae that beckon in the blackness.
I’m mighty impressed with the songwriting on this album — with the band’s ability not only to deliver headbanging rhythms but also to create memorable hooks that integrate seamlessly into the ambience they’re creating. The production renders the music sharp and clear, like jagged shards of ice. And the album art is worth mentioning too — there’s an image to match every song and to underscore the sci-fi theme mentioned above. We’ve put up a bunch of those images at the end of this post.
Altered State of Consciousness is an album that’s well worth your time, and Fractal Gates is a band definitely worth watching in the months and years to come. Here’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. I hope you find the music as bracing as I do.
You can buy a digital download of Altered State of Consciousness for $6.50 from CDBaby (here) or, more expensively, from iTunes or Amazon MP3, and both Amazon and the band are also selling the physical CD.
And for more info about Fractal Gates and the opportunity to hear more tracks from the album, their MySpace page is at this location and their official web page is here. Now, check out the album art:
Not bad. They seem more like a band you need to spend some time with to rather than pick up immediately, which I think would apply to yesterday’s band. Not sure if they’re going to the “to get” list or the “maybe get” list, but if I do get this album, I’m guessing getting the CD is going to be the better option. Then again, I still prefer having more than the songs and the artwork should be worth having in my hands.
Fans have put up all the songs from this album on YouTube accompanied by the album art, if you’re interested in hearing more. For example, this one of “Immersion”:
Still haven’t made up my mind, although I could end up settling for the download as a compromise. Out of curiosity, do CDBaby’s downloads come with anything other than the songs (lyrics, artwork)?
Unfortunately, no — just the mp3s, a text file with the track listing, and a jpg of the album cover (at least for this album).
Definitely some well done melodeath. Thumbs up in my book simply because they don’t rip-off At the Gates. Perhaps it’s unfair to comare any current melodic death metal band to At the Gates, but inevitably, it’s what I do since Slaughter of the Soul is so damn good. To a lesser extent I’ll do this with In Flames and Soilwork as well.
By the way, couldn’t agree more about In Flames – they were one of the first (though not the first) extreme metal bands I listened to and I loved it. Specifically, I’m talking about the Whoracle/Colony/Clayman era here though, since the newer stuff has taken a bit of a turn. What do you think of them now?
I’ve still got such a soft spot for In Flames that I find something to like in just about all the albums. I like the three you mentioned the best, but I have to say that I’m also a big fan of many songs on Come Clarity and Reroute To Remain. I was underwhelmed by A Sense of Purpose.
Huehue, my first extreme metal experience was In Flames aswell, but since I am a bit younger my first experience with In Flames was the album A Sense of Purpose. From there I dived in to the world of extreme and loved it 🙂
Excellent! You have lots of catching up to do! And don’t get me wrong — my reaction to A Sense of Purpose is based on comparison to their previous albums. Very cool that they continue to be a gateway to the dark realms.
It was In Flames for me as well. Mnemic and Soilwork as well, to a slightly lesser extent.
Mnemic is one of those bands I used to like and then completely lost interest in as much tastes got more extreme. Still like Soilwork though.
I had heard In Flames, but didn’t really get into them until later on, and still don’t consider myself a big fan; I only have two of their albums so far. Kinda the same for Dark Tranquillity. For me, it was Carcass and Edge Of Sanity who were the notable bands that started to steer me towards this side of metal, with some Napalm Death, Entombed and Cradle Of Filth to help further the cause. I also started exploring power and progressive metal at the same time, a journey which continues to this day.
I wonder if I would have continued to swim deeper into the extreme metal pool if the first band I’d heard was Carcass or Napalm Death or even Entombed. I love those bands now, but as a first taste of the genre it might have been too strong. Edge of Sanity would have been a really good “gateway” band, but as you know, I’ve only recently discovered their awesomeness.
Well, they weren’t the first bands I’d heard, but they were the first that I liked. I’m not sure who the first to assault my ears ever was – if I ever even knew who they were.
Ultimately, I think a lot of it comes down to what else you’re listening to and how you get exposed to the different stuff, be it radio (yes, that’s where some of it came for me), TV (again, this was when VH1 and MTV had very little non-music programming that wasn’t music news), friends, bands at concerts or what have you. Today, the internet makes it easier (well, sorta) to stumble across new bands and the many, many genres/sub-genres out there – although there may be too much for some to wade through. And like with any music, there’s crap, there’s decent stuff and there’s excellent stuff all to be had.
I shudder to think what it’s like today getting into metal as a fan. For me, Metallica’s …And Justice For All was my ticket in and my interest in metal grew from there. But look at things in five or ten year periods and it gets a bit scary. Grunge. Nu-metal after that. And now cookie cutter metalcore/deathcore/whatevercore, with some decent stuff that’s just awesome metal that escapes the mold, joining the return of awesome metal in all forms, having been in a stupor for quite some time. Sure, metal never really went away or totally sucked, but look at how it’s progressed over the past five years or so.
Oh, age also plays a role. I was 11 when I heard Metallica for the first time. Certain bands are okay for an 11 year old kid to hear. However, I think that some aren’t.
What, no Cradle of Filth at kindergarten nap time?
I don’t know how well corpse paint would go over for finger painting in class.
The last five years have been amazing. Just seems like there’s been an explosion of new metal in an amazing variety of flavors and an explosion of interest in the music too. As in all things, there’s more mediocrity than genius, and there’s the usual jumping-on-the-bandwagon by mediocre copycat bands after true originators do something inventive and new. But it’s been a helluva ride so far, and it doesn’t seem to be abating.
Considering all that’s been done as of late, I’m wondering when discocore is going to make its debut.
Hell, we already have pirate metal, and that’s done by more than a few bands. Thanks be to Pirates Of The Caribbean for that, I suppose. The Twilight series has given rise to lots of sucky goth bands – and not in the blood drinking way – but they’ve always been around, they’re just more fun to make fun of now. Fuck, there’s even Nintendocore! Sure, some bands have used video game music as inspiration (it actually goes both way), but some bands go for the cheese of early video games.
So, maybe it’s time to dust off the disco ball, slip into the roller skates and turn it up to eleven.
I’m starting to feel afraid.
I apologize now in advance if any band sees this and decides to go for it. Some ideas may be better left unsaid. After all, someone thought it was a good idea to do songs based on Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. More than one, actually. And lest we forget, Forrest Gump is now metal, too.
Although, I will take full credit for a medicalcore tour if the bands that fit the bill (ha!) hit the road.