(We present the April edition of THE SYNN REPORT, in which Andy discourses about all three albums in the discography of Italy’s Incoming Cerebral Overdrive.)
Recommended for fans of: The Dillinger Escape Plan, (early) Mastodon, Nero di Marte
Somehow this Italian quintet have completely passed me by up until now, despite releasing three extremely well-received albums within the past 8 years. Thankfully this edition of The Synn Report allows me an opportunity to rectify my mistake, and really dive into the band’s eclectic, eccentric, electrifying Prog/Tech/Math Metal stew.
Now, to be clear, when I use the term “Progressive” in this column, it’s to refer to the more chaotic, out-there-adventurousness of bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch, and early Mastodon – so don’t go expecting some sort of Dream Theatre-esque instrumental extravaganza or gleaming, harmony-laden Post-Metal odyssey – as Incoming Cerebral Overdrive (or I.C.O. as they shall hereto forth be referred to) have a much rawer, more experimental vibe to their music, and aren’t afraid to take a few risks whilst also keeping things nice and heavy.
That being said, their most recent album (2012’s Le Stelle: A Voyage Adrift) definitely saw them reining in the chaotic Hardcore influences of their earlier works in favour of a more refined — though no less challenging — sound, so it’s clear that the Italian band aren’t done experimenting and progressing (in the most literal sense of the word) their sound just yet!
CEREBRAL HEART – 2008
Opener “Food” is heaving, juddering piece of metallic, Hardcore-tinged proggery which lurches back and forth between scattergun riff work and sublime, ambient interludes of undulating bass lines and esoteric synth parts, before the jittery hooks and catchy, fretboard-mangling guitar work of “Analysis” leaps into the fray, Samuele Storai’s belligerent vocals clamouring for your attention before a backdrop of tangled riffs and crunchy, angular rhythms.
The warped synth lines, and ominous bass/drum interplay that introduces “Wait” quickly transitions into a cacophony of barely controlled chaos that sounds, at times, a little like someone randomly throwing the members of The Dillinger Escape Plan down the stairs and recording the end results (and I mean that in a good way).
“Seasons” drops the listener face-first into a tumultuous, Tech/Prog Metal maelstrom of discordant, clashing chords, throat-scarring vocals, and juicy, headbangable grooves, after which the anxiety-inducing intensity of “Hope” mixes and matches grooving, low-slung riffage, staccato, stabbing discordance, weird, proggy synth lines, and a heavy helping of mammoth, doomy sludge, in an outright refusal to stick to any one particular style or genre.
Those strange, unsettling synth parts are particularly prominent during the space-oddity introduction of “Slave”, though they’re quickly subsumed by the clanking, clattering noise which follows. That being said, the occasional injection of some eerie clean vocals and twanging, pinging bass lines (as well as the subtle return of those eccentric synth parts), marks this track out as unconventional even amongst the general cavalcade of weirdness that surrounds it.
“Born”, by contrast, is a much more immediate, and instantly infectious, bruiser of a track, though it still contains a number of unexpected touches (not least an impressively emphatic undercurrent of proper melody) to accent and accentuate its switchblade riff work and all-round ferocious delivery.
The album concludes with the unusual pairing of “Awakening” – a splintered, chugging, chafing, Prog/Math/Metal hybrid that floats like a butterfly, stings like an STD, and packs one humongous finishing blow – and the all-synth, ambient outro of “Vibrated”, which serves as something of a necessary calmative after having so much sheer intensity and aggression thrown at you for the last 30-ish minutes.
CONTROVERSO – 2009
With their second album the irrepressible Italians delivered a second dosage of technically twisted, perceptively progressive, deviant metallic mayhem that manages (at times at least) to be a little sharper, and a little less scrambled, than their madcap debut.
“Reflections” immediately demonstrates the tweaks the band have made to their sound, feeling a little more precise and focussed in its calculated chaos and confusion, its twitchy, disharmonic riffs and scattergun rhythms all working in surprising harmony to keep you on your toes, even as the track’s sheer energy gets your head moving and your heart palpitating off-beat.
Second track “Oxygen” delivers some impressively mind-mangling fretwork of its own, throwing its multifarious riffs at you like they’re going out of style, barely even pausing for breath before it slams straight into the perplexing, paranoid convulsions of “Controversial”, whose punked-up riffing style and vicious, searing hooks, help it to make an immediate, and intense, impression on the listener.
Whereas the neurotic contortions of “Science” initially sound like I.C.O. are right on the verge of going off the rails, the song’s utterly unexpected, blackened and bluesy second half – all moody, swamp-soaked melodies and raw, snarling vocals – demonstrates that there’s still a method to the band’s madness, as well as signalling a nice shift of gear leading into the slower, doomier strains of “Magic”, which comes across like the product of a mushroom-fuelled jam session between members of Converge, Black Sabbath, and King Crimson, picking up in pace and intensity as it progresses in suitably unpredictable fashion.
Practically on the exact opposite end of the scale, “Sound” is a Punk and D-Beat fuelled piece of caustic Metallic Hardcore… at least at first. It’s mid-section is rather more esoteric in nature, with its stripped-back, almost ambient drum work and strange, tilted synth melodies taking things in a direction that’s decidedly “out there”. Thankfully, the song’s return to its harsher beginnings helps it transition smoothly (if that’s the right word) into the jarring jolts and jerks of “Colours”, a song designed to twist your mind and confound your expectations with every sudden swerve or frenzied frame-shift.
The album ends, suitably enough (for reasons which will eventually become apparent) with the fluid, proggy complexity of the almost-instrumental “There”, whose strong shades of early/mid period Mastodon help end the record in grand, though very much unexpected, style.
LE STELLE: A VOYAGE ADRIFT – 2012
With Le Stelle… the quintet made some big steps in changing things up, leaning even harder on the more progressive and melodic elements of their sound, something you’ll immediately notice on opener “Mirzam”, which showcases the band’s newfound sense of style — slightly less dissonant, though no less fleet of foot and nimble of finger – by combining the steadily expanding range of Storai’s gruff, not-quite-melodic, vocals with Maurizio Tucci and Stefanno Tocci’s multifaceted palette of atmospheric-yet-angular riffs in truly fascinating fashion.
The infectious, off-kilter bass lines, howling vocals, and prominent, proggy synths of “Sirius” are up next, the song’s suggestive, post-hypnotic rhythms and palpable energy digging a deep-rooted groove right through to the base of your brain, into which flows the shamelessly catchy space-metal of “Betelgeuse”, filling you up with its spiralling, psychedelic melodies and fractured, fractal riffage.
“Kochab” begins in a gleaming sonic void, before expanding into something much heavier, all harsh angles and dense, chunky riffs that stop-and-start in fibrillating motion, leading into the clashing, kaleidoscopic guitar work and wrenching percussive patterns of “Adhara”, where the band toy with the ideas of melody and dissonance like a cat toys with a mouse, moving from strained Mathcore riffage to chilling ambient minimalism, and back again, in a shameless display of proggy nonconformity.
With “Pherkad” the band go hard on their heavier side – despite some frequent trippy melodic interludes and moments of surprisingly intricate instrumental interplay – unveiling some of the densest riffing on the entire album, and follow-up “Sirius B” keeps the intensity level high with its twitchy, arrhythmia-inducing riffs and strong hints of Remission-era Mastodon.
Largely instrumental for most of its run-time, barring some tooth-gnashing early snarls and some deep, chanted clean vocals near the end, the powerful, atmospheric “Polaris” is the very definition of a “deep cut”, building from its soft introductory bars into a brooding slow-burner of cleverly complex guitar/bass/drum interplay that leads into the warped proggery of “Bellatrix”, one of the album’s most immediately infectious tracks, straddling a middle ground between the meta-melodic dissonance of Nero di Marte and the freak-metal intensity of early Mastodon.
Of course the Italian quintet save their most ambitious composition to last, with “Rigel” clocking in at an impressive 10:50, incorporating all the various and variegated sounds – twisted tech-punk spasms, looming atmospheric passages, prog-tinged melody, and menacing, metallic Mathcore riffage – that the band have experimented with over the course of all three albums.