(Andy Synn wrote this review of the December 2014 album by an Indianapolis band named Mapmaker.)
In a crowded scene where the word “Progressive” has been bastardised and bandied about so much that it’s become almost meaningless, a band like Mapmaker, with their melding of proggy, emotive instrumentation and bruising, Deathcore-ish heft, seems like precisely the sort of band you’d expect me to instantly dislike.
Yet I must admit I was drawn in by the fantastic cover art (never underestimate the value of a good album cover, kids), and decided to give the Indiana natives a chance, hoping to discover something new.
And I’m very glad I did, because this is a fantastic (if flawed) gem of a debut.
In fact although the album may not be perfect, Automation more than justifies the band’s use of the “Progressive” tag (de rigeur sci-fi concept, notwithstanding) with an enviable wealth of ideas and focussed ambition, every element being organically woven together in layers of carefully crafted texture and nuance, all bolstered by an extremely heavy low-end of juddering intensity.
Doubtless it won’t be for everyone, but in a scene where shallow superficiality and bland technicality are often used as a substitute for real creativity and credibility, Automation clearly stands head and shoulders above the rest, both on the strength of its song-writing and the impressive clarity of its vision.
Doubtless it won’t be for everyone, but in a Metal scene seemingly inundated by bands bastardising the “Progressive” tag in order to lend themselves some sort of spurious credibility, Automation clearly stands head and shoulders above the rest, both on the strength of its songs and the clarity of its vision.
Songs like scintillating opener “Genesis” — with its vibrant mix of fluid, melodic instrumentation, shadowy ambience, and pure metallic power (aided and abetted by vocalist Garrett Williams’ colossal roar) – and the creative instrumental interplay and sheer intensity of “Juxtaposition” (another, perfectly named, early highlight), are the product of a carefully constructed combination of influences and inspirations, a dynamic and diverse palette of alchemical elements, all integrated seamlessly into a greater whole.
From the atmospheric ambient aura which permeates “Integration” to the complex Prog-Death convulsions of “Extension” – via the jolting grooves and nimble fretwork of “Miasma” (concluding with a gorgeously evocative instrumental outro of shimmering guitar notes and lithe, mellifluous bass-work) and the frantic aggression of “Source” – it’s an album both broad in scope and stylistic diversity, yet with a depth and clarity far beyond the band’s years.
Granted, the occasional clean vocal part (appearing first on “Ascension” and then again on the eclectic and electrifying “Created”), while impeccably performed and seamlessly integrated, provide little more than a passing diversion, but the overall experience, the way in which the songs flow and meld together into something so brilliantly cohesive, is an absolute joy to behold.
Clearly a labour of love for all those involved, despite dwelling right on the crest of the current zeitgeist, Automation somehow manages the almost-unthinkable achievement of defining its own creative identity amidst a sea of uninspired imitators and followers.
Moments of captivating ambience and progressive, introspective instrumentation sit seamlessly alongside explosions of high impact groove and seething catharsis, balancing light and shade, calm and fury, in a visceral, vital, and vibrantly compelling juxtaposition of styles and sounds.
And ultimately (though perhaps I’m being a tad unfair here to certain bands) one of the key things about Automation is that, unlike the work of so many of their peers, it’s never boring.
Whereas certain other, more prominent bands have a positively soporific effect on me – comfortably and numbingly melodic enough for the Prog crowd, safely and blandly heavy enough for the Metallers – Mapmaker effortlessly retain my interest throughout (even in the album’s weakest moments, such as during the audacious, at times ill-advised, 20-minute final track) with a sense of dynamism and creative flair that ties the whole package together into one intensely interesting and rewarding listening experience.
Fans of The Faceless, Between The Buried And Me, and The Human Abstract — take note. This is a band you need to hear.
Fans of creative and captivating Progressive music in general… you take note, too. Or else you might just miss out.