There are multiple distinct varieties of Space Metal. There is the “floating in space” variety – a disembodied and contemplative music that speaks of cold vacuum and deep isolation, but also of cosmic masterpieces, of nova and collapse, of naked physics and staggering distance, of glowing gas clouds and silent moons. Several bands do this extremely well. Obscura conduct technically astounding space-philosophy lectures. Cynic launch celestial voyages into sectors where the spiritual and the cosmos intertwine. Omega Centauri paint the blackness of space even blacker with their diffuse riffs and forlorn howls.
Then there is the Science Fiction variety. This is a strain of Metal that is more concerned with the frailness of human flesh and the shortcomings of the human consciousness. Will our crew survive the unforgiving, razor-thin margins of space travel? Will they transcend their own limited ways of thinking and realize a higher potential in time to defeat not just the aliens, but their own fatal tendencies? Will they ever see the Earth again – and if they do, will they even recognize it?
ARTIFICIAL BRAIN have crafted a fine example of the latter with Labyrinth Constellation, the band’s debut LP for Profound Lore. Constellation is a brutish, yet wistful saga of mortality in the alien wastes of barely-inhabitable deep space. For every moment of beauty and enlightenment, there is an equal or greater measure of horror and despair. This duality is aptly illustrated by Paolo “Madman” Girardi’s excellent cover art. In it, a shining city of iridescent hue is foregrounded by a desperate battle in tones of earthen grey.
Sonically, ARTIFICIAL BRAIN exude balance. The first sound on the album is an engine-like bass rumble. The next is an engine-like throat rumble. Vocalist Will Smith’s vocals are cavernous and guttural, creating an impression of planetary winds howling through twisted terrestrial landforms and long-deserted colonial structures. They are the elegiac voice of the planet as witness, parroting the last desolate cries of the explorers who journeyed millions of miles from home only to grapple with their own mortality and insignificance.
Does the grinning face of death look any different under the pallid light of many moons? Does one’s soul make a return journey when the body is consumed by thousands of hatchling worms? Who will heed these monuments to noble explorations gone uncompromisingly awry?
Constellation was recorded, mixed and mastered by Colin Marston of Krallice and Dysrhythmia fame. As in Marston’s other projects, the bassist – in this case Samuel Smith – is given a prominent place in the mix. Smith’s bass, Keith Abrami’s kick drum and Will Smith’s low growls form ARTIFICIAL BRAIN’s rock-solid, but not overwhelming, low-end.
The hard-panned guitars of Dan Gargiulo and Jon Locastro roam happily into the upper resisters. Their distinctly dissonant, Dysrhythmian sense of melody is essential to the album’s appeal. Their highlights are many – the bizarre chord sequences and queasy bends of “Brain Transplant”, the strange but moving arpeggios in “Absorbing Black Ignition”, the adventurous chords and weaving interplay in “Wired Opposites”. Gargiulo and Locastro season the growling, muscular Death Metal at ARTIFICIAL BRAIN’s core with a measure of beauty and sadness that takes Constellation far above and beyond traditional territory.
Drummer Keith Abrami’s guides the band through a number of tricky stop-starts and odd time signatures. His blasts and double bass runs are nearly immaculate, but his drumming is more interesting when he is doing neither. Of note are the groovy bounces and chained fills in middle sections of “Wired Opposites”, the busy looping pattern in the verses of “Orbital Gait” and the excellent swinging snare rolls in “Hormone’s Echo”.
The unified vision and satisfying narrative sweep of Constellation are suggestive of something like Mastodon’s Leviathan. There is an unmistakable sense of time, place and mood that carries through Constellation’s length. However, there is a lull in the middle, between the physical, Thrash-inflected “Worm Harvester” and the title track. These middle songs aren’t bad per se, but they lack the focus and impact of the songs that bookend them.
And make no mistake, the album finishes strong. The title track is a crushing last stand, setting up “Hormone’s Echo”, a blackened observation of large, immutable forces exerting their terrible weight on laughably fragile hopes: the space station silently shudders and breaks apart. The reinforcement ship ignites as it arrives, crumpling pathetically to the planet’s surface. Our heroes bid farewell to their glimmering dreams with a mix of resigned growls and frenzied screams.
“Moon Funeral” closes the album with a textured, barreling epilogue. The song is a summation of everything ARTIFICIAL BRAIN has accomplished with Constellation, juxtaposing passages of forceful Death Metal bludgeoning with compelling passages of otherworldly melody. Harsh reality and glimmering hope wage battle down to the final note, leaving our brave subjects in a limbo of exquisite cruelty.
Constellation is lumbering, yet graceful, complex, yet memorable. It is full of handcrafted dissonance and thematic depth. ARTIFICIAL BRAIN have created an emotionally potent work without sacrificing heaviness to achieve their goals. Labyrinth Constellation is an impressive album, and a release that should not be overlooked.
Release: February 2014
Label: Profound Lore Records
Avantgenre: Dissonant Science Fiction Death
Duration: 45 Minutes
Origin: United States
Official site: http://www.facebook.com/ArtificialBrainMusic
Review online since: 08.04.2014 / 19:41:59
01 – Brain Transplant