Recommended for fans of: Gorguts, Demilich, Wormed
So I’ve finally found a chance to break my streak of writing about Black Metal bands for The Synn Report, and what better way to do that than with the mind-melting Death Metal madness of Artifical Brain?
And what better time to do so than now, with the band’s self-titled third album (the culmination of their ongoing sci-fi trilogy which began with 2014’s Labyrinth Constellation) due for release at the end of this week?
Those of you already familiar with the group will obviously need no introduction to their sound, and are probably just here to glean a little bit of advanced insight into what their upcoming new album has in store.
But those who are a little more, shall we say, unprepared for the oncoming onslaught of extravagant technicality, extra-terrestrial vocalisations, and extinction-level heaviness, may find themselves a little overwhelmed by what will probably – at first listen – seem like the very epitome of “organised chaos”.
Thankfully, I can reassure you that there most certainly is a method to the band’s musical madness, it just takes a little while to fully acclimatise and tune into the right frequency in order to truly get what’s going on here.
But when you do… things will never be the same again.
LABYRINTH CONSTELLATION – 2014
Kicking off with clanking, cataplectic assault of the aptly-named “Brain Transplant” – which is something you might well need once this album is finished with you – the band’s first album quickly lays down one simple ground rule… there are no rules.
As the album then swiftly spirals through the gargantuan “Absorbing Black Ignition” (still one of the band’s best songs, though it’s faced some stiff competition over the years) and the undulating technical contortions of “Wired Opposites” you’ll find yourselves almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas being thrown at you.
From jangling dischords and ganglian bass spams to twisted half-melodies and lurching anti-grooves, Artificial Brain certainly don’t make it easy for the listener to latch onto their music – but although it may often seem as though they’re as quick to discard an idea as they were to come up with it, over time the shape and structure of the songs (and the album as a whole) begins to become clear.
“Worm Harvester”, for example, makes time to dwell on its doomy, dissonant mid-section, such that the surrounding chaos and calamity which bookends this unexpectedly atmospheric diversion is thrown into stark contrast, while the jagged edges and abstract angles of “Frozen Planets” are, to an extent, smoothed out by the song’s unexpected (albeit unorthodox) melodic sensibilities.
That’s not to say, of course, that Labyrinth Constellation is a purely cerebral effort. As technical and “avant-garde” as it might be, it’s still a Death Metal album at its core, and isn’t afraid to drop the hammer when it feels like it, which goes some way to explaining how utterly, obnoxiously heavy and unforgiving the hammering “Orbital Gait” is, containing as it does some of the densest, gravity-distorting riffs on the entire record.
Similarly, “Bastard Planet” has a thrashy, full-throttle savagery to it that hearkens back to guitarist Dan Gargulio’s time in Revocation, albeit with a far darker, deathlier, and more demanding feel overall (especially when the eerie, sci-fi synths make an appearance), while the title track epitomises the group’s approach to song-writing – equal parts progressive and aggressive – which purposefully avoids the predictable patterns while still incorporating some surprisingly sharp melodic hooks and shockingly infectious, punishingly rhythmic riffage.
The group save the very best for last (and almost last) however, with the climactic duo of the monstrous “Hormone’s Echo” and the Ingurgitating Oblivion-esque “Moon Funeral”, which together give you some indication as to how much further the band plan to push things on their next album – especially the latter, whose fluid, non-Newtonian sense of pseudo-melody and almost stream-of-consciousness progression from one part to the next serves as a sign that Artificial Brain are far from out of ideas. If anything, these ten songs simply aren’t enough to contain all that they are and all that they want to be!
INFRARED HORIZON – 2017
Wasting absolutely no time at all, “Floating in Delirium” immediately begins to assault the senses with just over three and a half minutes of searing sonic terrorism, that doesn’t pull any punches or offer any quarter, whether you’re ready or not.
It’s notable however, now that you’ve been prepared a little by having heard the previous album, how much Infrared Horizon, even at this early stage, feels like a tighter and more cohesive record overall.
It’s not that the band have given up on trying to pack as many different competing, clashing, and cryptic ideas into each song as possible – far from it… if anything there might be even more going at once this time around – it’s that they’ve clearly gotten more comfortable layering and interweaving these ideas together.
“Synthesized Instinct”, for example, is as abrasive, angular, and aggressive as anything off of Labyrinth Constellations, but also, simultaneously, overflowing with moody melodies and irradiated atmosphere.
This balancing act continues throughout the album – “Static Shattering”, for example, being somehow both more melodic and even heavier than either of its predecessors, while “Estranged From Orbit” displays both a newfound sense of introspective intensity and an overwhelming sonic density – and there comes a point where you realise that the band’s incorporation of more melody and atmosphere, albeit in an unorthodox and unconventional manner, has actually given them an excuse to go even more extreme at the same time.
The title track is a perfect example of this, its clashing, four-dimensional chords and slashes of dissonance-sharpened melody carving a hole in your consciousness into which the band then inject a torrent of contorted, finger-crippling riffs, distorted, nerve-jangling bass lines, and howling, proto-human vocals.
“Anchored to the Inlayed Arc” then picks up where “Infrared Horizon” left off, its bait-and-switch ambient opening bars quickly buried under a crushing cacophony of macerating, machine-like riffage, after which the stunning Post-Death Metal of “Mist Like Mercury” once again demonstrates why Artificial Brain are one of the most forward-thinking bands in the Extreme scene.
Going into the home stretch the group continue to push themselves, with the almost unrelenting velocity and unsettling atmospherics of “Vacant Explorer” providing yet another challenging (yet rewarding) blend of two different extremes, while the swirling dissonance and churning discordance of “Graveyard of Lightless Planets” successfully manages to be one of the slipperiest, but also most infectious, tracks on the entire album.
Closing with “Ash Eclipse”, perhaps the simplest and most straight-forward song they’ve ever done – relative to the rest of their back-catalogue, I mean – Infrared Horizon proves itself to be arguably even more difficult and densely-packed with ideas than the band’s first album but also, paradoxically, somehow even more accessible and approachable at the same time.
Maybe that’s something the band set out purposefully to achieve. Or maybe that’s the brain damage talking. Either way…it works.
ARTIFICIAL BRAIN – 2022
For their self-titled album the band clearly pulled out all the stops (vocalist Will Smith – not that one – in particular puts in a phenomenal performance for his last appearance behind the mic), beginning with the blasting, gurgling, eye-and-ear-gouging assault of eponymous opener, “Artificial Brain”.
Even darker, and even more intense – and benefitting from an even more OTT, yet still subtly nuanced, production job – this album is akin to being caught in the gravity well of a collapsing star, every song simultaneously crushing and compacting your physical body with its sheer weight even as it stretches and expands the boundaries of your spatio-temporal awareness.
“Glitch Cannon”, for example, find the band embracing the unforgiving Sci-Fi slamminess that’s always been an unspoken part of their sound, while also letting their proggier proclivities run wild, resulting in a song that threatens to pull your guts out of your asshole while at the same time opening your third eye to the unseen mysteries of the universe.
“Celestial Cyst” then reveals how much the band’s melodic inclinations have also progressed in the intervening years, marrying an almost Defeated Sanity-esque blend of scraping riffage and scatter-gun snare to an omnipresent undercurrent of celestial harmony, some of which carries over into the propulsive Prog/Tech torrent of “A Lofty Grave”, which itself contains some of the most mind-bending leads and maddening melodies of the group’s career.
For all its obnoxious heaviness and aggressive intensity, “Tome of the Exiled Engineer” is a surprisingly introspective track – sort of like an existentialist version of Suffocation – while “Embalmed With Magma” finds the band in an even doomier and more introverted place, one which – even when it does finally erupt into barely-controlled chaos – allows every instrument, and every element of their sound, a little more room to breathe.
Of course, this more restrained approach was never going to last very long, and with “Parasite Signal” the album snaps back, twice as hard, with the resultant sonic whiplash threatening both your physical and mental integrity in the process, after which the Gorguts-esque sturm und twang of “Cryogenic Dreamworld” does its very best to jar your nerves and prey on your anxieties, even as it collapses under its own weight into brooding, nebulous ambience at the very end.
With “Insects and Android Eyes” the band make their penultimate attempt at remote trepanning, every winding, tremolo riff and pneumatic nail-gun snare blast attempting to bore and hammer their way into your skull so that the song’s strain of visceral, virulent melody can get at the grey matter within.
Finally there’s “Last Words of the Wobbling Sun” – the longest song they’ve written since “Moon Funeral” – whose early restraint (think Ulcerate, but even more claustrophobic) eventually gives way to an eruption of near-apocalyptic noise only to, unexpectedly, shift back into an even more dynamic, drawn-out, and atmospheric finale which ends the album, and the trilogy, on a suitably enigmatic note, leaving you to wonder… where will they go from here?