Artist: Artificial Brain
Album: Artificial Brain
Label: Profound Lore
Release Date: June 3, 2022
Location: Long Island, NY
Artificial Brain brings together many idiomatic features of death metal and black metal inside the framework of the trademark dystopian science-fiction worldbuilding they have maintained throughout their releases. What does the relentless, grinding advance of a long-abandoned cyborg war machine sound like as it crashes through ancient ruins to tear you limb from limb? Are maniacal space-tyrants-turned-mad-scientists lonely in their geosynchronous orbit over dead worlds? If a synthetic, post “fall of mankind” tree falls in the overgrown forest of what used to be New York, and no organic lifeforms are around to hear it, does it make a sound? These are the questions asked and answered by this record.
Quick to seize the moment by establishing the tremolo picking and blast beats, the album’s opening track aptly named Artificial Brain blurs lines that I wasn’t sure even existed between guttural vocals and bass guitar frequencies. Though no longer with the band, then-vocalist Will Smith shows his chops all across the record, but this opening gesture is a highlight of the album: immediately, you know you are in for a gurgling, blasting, frenzied trip across a nightmarish landscape. Listing through the combination of elements at work in this relatively brief tune (2:38) we have: the aforementioned extremely low guttural vocals, upper register melancholic guitar arpeggios, blasting on a snare that is living somewhere between trashy, ringy, and snappy, and a growling bass that is mixed up front (where it belongs, dammit). There is clearly a lot going on here. It’s a chaotic mix of elements that could easily come undone. But they never do, they continue to power through with deliberate fury. The real world geographic DNA of the NY scene is apparent everywhere, nodding to Krallice, Imperial Triumphant, and Gorguts.
Glitch Cannon pulls no punches and immediately pushes the tempo. If I didn’t know any better, I might think that the guitarists were struggling to keep up with this track because it carries the sound of struggling, the emotion of desperation. Turns out everyone in this band in extremely capable and breeze through this track, but my point here is a deeper one – even though they *can* blaze through these parts with their eyes closed, they’ve managed to imbue the playing here with the sense of the tempo causing struggle and that adds so much to this track. The sound of struggle is a good thing here, it’s emotive and human. Consider how few technical bands have failed to make their most intricate playing sound like anything more than guitar exercises. None of that here – this is wonderfully organic playing which manages to remain fully vigorous and precise.
Celestial Cyst brings the trademark melancholic-yet-catchy upper guitar melodies mentioned earlier before segueing into low register brutality. A plodding tempo forms the structure for the whole band to cover different territories simultaneously before regrouping gracefully back on the main motif. Some backup vocals with contrasting tonal treatment break things up a bit before yet another motivic return which showcases the band’s ability to stealthily utilise surprisingly traditional song structures, despite being composed of truly dense riffs. The back and forth between big, crushing death metal sections and more esoteric, emotive guitar arpeggios is the band’s bread and butter and this track harkens back to an earlier offering from 2017’s Infrared Horizon entitled Estranged From Orbit. I would have considered that track the band’s mission statement until that notion was usurped by Celestial Cyst. One of the best tracks on the album. If you want to introduce someone to the band, send them this tune.
Getting off to a fairly middling start, A Lofty Grave recovers through introducing fresh elements to break things up. Guest vocalist and longtime collaborator Paulo Paguntalan (Edenic Past, Encenatrakh) makes one of several appearances to lend his tortured shriek to a record otherwise dominated by Smith’s low guttural and the contrast between the two vocalists is staggering. Quickly after, the record’s mixer/masterer, Colin Marston manifests insanity via a guest solo on Warr Guitar which elevates the track to appropriately lofty levels. This solo is so unexpected, and frankly sits in such a different space from the rest of the material both tonally and melodically – the impact is all at once uplifting, sudden, disorienting, and elating all while evoking past melody lines Marston played on his project Indricothere. The tone here is synth-like and the playing is totally outside, both frantic and alien before resolving into a nearly comforting sing-song melody. Suddenly disintegrating again like being propelled above tumultuous storm clouds into the warmth of sunlight, only to fall back down to the toxic ground below – quite a journey. Taking nothing away from the band here, they do a fantastic job providing a backdrop for this moment to take place, shifting from anxiety-laden grinding to monstrous, undulating, swells beneath the solo soaring above, returning with force to close out the tune with a strikingly ominous ending. For me, this is the pivotal highlight of the album, to be sure.
Tome of the Exiled Engineer is perhaps the most “death metal” track of the bunch, orienting itself around a riff at 1:13 that doest give you any choice about whether to bang your head. I’m assuming this is a Dan Garguilo riff because it so strongly references Revocation. But as soon as you think you’re done, the next riff is here, and you’re banging your head to that one as well. This may sound like nothing worth noting – I mean, it’s death metal right? We’re supposed to bang our heads. But it contrasts so well against all of the tremolo picking frenetic energy we have had so far – you were always going to headbang, but you *really* headbang here because of the juxtaposition. Some melody lines stepping out front on the bass lend intricacy to a track that would otherwise be the dominion of big, fat guitar riffs.
Sam’s bass gets yet another chance to rumble and growl its way through the opening moments of Embalmed With Magma (how fucking metal is that?) as dissonant guitar arpeggios cascade over a tribal drum beat that builds on the toms before shifting into a quick double pedal and ride bell groove. This is built upon further as the beat transforms yet again into one of the more memorable drum parts on the record which stands out due to its simplicity as contrasted against the frenetic blasts are typically the norm.Whereas blasts tend to blur together in an almost ambient manner, the rise and fall of this section is evocative of huge swelling ocean waves, feeling much more organic against the mechanical elements as a sense of inexorable foreboding is developed. It’s the mark of good songwriting when time flies and this track delivers on that virtue. After 3.5 minutes, it only feels like 60 seconds because things stay interesting. Credit to bassist Sam Smith and drummer Keith Abrami for really creating a compelling structure together and staking out their territory on this track.
Frenzy is the apt descriptor on Parasite Signal. Churning guitars, frantic drums.I think there is a second snare drum here which supplies a great textural contrast, ringing out wildly against the comparatively tight kick drums. Drawn out guttural vocals stretch out even further with a spacious echoing delay and sit nicely inside the mix alongside the instruments. This is a good opportunity to touch on the production here – Colin Marston, who has been a legend for years now, is credited as Mixing and Mastering the record and…not that anyone with a brain and one functioning ear would be surprised to read this, but he does a phenomenal job of giving everything its space to breathe. I especially appreciate how much prominence he gives to the bass which gets to sit next to the guitars as a peer, instead of living beneath them. Vocals are similarly sitting within the mix instead of dominating them which would have been a tragic way to smudge over the intricacy of these counterpoint guitar lines.
Cryogenic Dreamworld is a dense composition, as is every tune on this record, but it falls on a moment in the tracklisting where I found myself wishing for a breather. Luckily, that break is delivered, but it does feel like it strikes a moment too late. Some ethereal clean guitars appear momentarily, creating a lush moment amid the chaos. Further through the track, we are greeted by an abrupt silence which leads into a section where all instruments are silent as we are treated to a few moments of falling rain punctuated by some technology sound reminiscent of something you may have heard in the background watching Blade Runner.. This is exactly the break needed here, and while the timing is clearly a matter of taste, I do maintain that it arrives a moment late. This track is probably the closest thing to a “skip,” but it isn’t a skip, it’s just the least noteworthy moment on a record filled to the brim with noteworthy moments. Without this changeup, I feel that ear fatigue would have surely begun to set in after the millionth snare hit has rung. Music that lives in this space has to either address this issue through brevity or by offering some sort of intermission, and Artificial Brain navigate the problem successfully (albeit a few moments overdue) towards the tail end of this nearly 50 minute chunk of grinding gears and fury.
A fresh source of vocal contrast is delivered on Insects and Android Eyes as Gorguts legend Luc Lemay delivers a stellar guest vocal, evoking the desperation of a terrifying post-apocalyptic future that the record lives within. This track feels like a build to a moment around the 3 minute mark where space is cleared away for a solemnly quiet, almost vulnerable moment where a clean guitar break briefly offers a reprieve from the din. Lemay returns to close out the track leaving us with that familiar desperation. At this point, Lemay’s presence is perfectly timed within the greater blueprint of the tracklisting as I find myself just starting to get comfortable with the formula.
The final track, aptly titled Last Words of the Wobbling Sun, sets a truly whiplash pace before settling into more mid-tempo detours to establish a sense of immense scale. We are treated to one of the only true “lead guitar” sections shortly after the 2 minute mark and it leaves me looking back across the record wishing that this would have been a more commonplace feature, if only to supply a bit more contrast. The piercing upper register melody, complete with delay and wild vibrato cuts nicely across the density of dissonant guitars. The band continue to shift between frantic tremolo picking, dissonant ringing open string arpeggios, and big chunks of low string gravity initiate an epic repeating finale before quietly fading out to an ominous synth note that closes out the record.
Opting to match this record’s title to their namesake was a statement in itself; the third album by Artificial Brain is where their sound has synthesised in its clearest, most monstrous form. While all three records thus released by the band are strong and unquestionably worthy of addition to your modern death metal collection, 2014’s Labyrinth Constellation and 2017’s Infrared Horizon fall firmly under the shadow of the band’s most recent offering. This record maintains the futuristic techno-apocalyptic environment that the band has crafted through composition and lyrical content alike, and delivers it in a way that sounds simultaneously clean, precise, modern, organised, and deliberate, while also avoiding any hint of digital sounding overpolish that death metal often suffers from. It’s a record of exceptional playing that sounds like people, not computers. The collision of the mechanical and organic in the lyrics is reflected in the overall sound. The only criticism of this record I can really offer is the placement of the intermission in the tracklisting – it was just a bit too brief and showed up one track late. Luckily for us, Artificial Brain are a truly interesting band, so any ear fatigue wears away as soon as the next big moment makes its presence felt. Buy this record, treasure this record, and eagerly anticipate the next one.
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