Review Summary: Great songwriting, competent musicianship and intelligent lyrics make this a surprisingly catchy release from Singapore.
With Impiety and Rudra having embedded Singaporean Metal on the world map, it was only a matter of time before we bore witness to more great releases from this exotic region. I recall the first album by Deus Ex Machina, The War Inside, an album with noteworthy musicianship and songwriting prowess that was marred by a demo-like atmosphere due to the inlay and due to the use of a different vocalist for each track, making an otherwise decent effort sound like a vocalist audition tape. Now, with a revamped line-up, Deus Ex Machina have put forth an innovative and highly enjoyable album that is I, Human.
The first factor that struck me was the conceptual and lyrical approach that the band have adopted; the album seems to be based on Isaac Asimov’s epic I, Robot, but at the same time draws influences from other science fiction works such as Blade Runner, The 6th Day, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Warhammer 40,000. The release tells the tale of an unnamed character that realizes himself to be a clone and his struggle with emotions and society, and his final resolution to unite his fellow clones and wipe out the human race. This evocative theme, coupled with the very intelligent and poetic lyrics, showcases a sense of originality that is lacking in contemporary Metal.
Musically, Deus Ex Machina play an amalgamation of Death Metal (think a fusion of the American and Swedish schools), Thrash Metal and Progressive Metal. Aggression, melody and technicality form the vernacular of the record. This band is clearly influenced by the titans that are Death, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Nevermore and Meshuggah, particularly the former, whose blueprint is cleverly drawn upon.
As musicians, the band shines with each member masterfully displaying his respective craft. New permanent vocalist Mithun resolves the previous album’s vocalist dilemma by ferociously roaring his mark with a Cradle Of Filth-esque schizophrenic execution. Covering the full vocal spectrum, the vocals hearken to some of the finest extreme metal singers yet still possess a distinctive character with clear diction. Also tastefully utilized are clean vocals that are a wicked combination of Warrel Dane, Rob Halford and Aaron Stainthorpe. The guitar department dominates the listener with power and versatility, at times bludgeoning you with its rapid-fire riffing, other times enthralling you with melodic rhapsody. Sole founding member Ryan’s lead work is commendable to say the least, and the tranquil clean guitar segments further reinforce the diversity present. Bass engulfs one with flamboyant sensibilities, with the slapped portions further enhancing the album’s robotic concept. The solo bass moments that periodically appear are mesmerizing and fortify the band’s differentiation from the generic Death Metal pool. Drumming is technical and unorthodox, warping both the mind and ears with the progressive off-timing playing. Evidently well-versed in the Swedish Thrash field (Peter Wildoer and Henry Ranta come to mind); be prepared for a multi-faceted barrage.
The album itself commences with a buzzing sample track that is blatantly inspired by B-movies. The next track, or opening song, “The Mask”, rips opens like a bastard child of Slayer and Nevermore and proceeds to take on many forms (check out the bass line at 1:40) before settling with a syncopated conclusion. “Replicant” continues with heavy Gothenburg tones, and a groovy breakdown that leads to a haunting interlude only to explode into a Blackened ending with Chris Latta-inspired vocals! “Jigsaw” lives up to its namesake with it being a delicate and progressive mish-mash of the band’s styles and solid guitar, drum and vocal work. “The Human Strain” has a traditional metal introduction that morphs into a devastating Death/Thrash onslaught. “I”, perhaps the best and most original track on the album, seduces the listener with a fantastic Middle-Eastern riff and ethereal clean vocals. “The Omega Directive” is a thrilling ride that unleashes its true colors with a killer breakdown and a theatrical outro. “Assent/Dissent” acts an insane culmination of the band’s songwriting and musicianship, with the lead work shining through, all in all providing an excellent conclusion to the album’s concept. The final hidden track is instrumental, but far from a miss with its sincere catchiness.
Of course, this album is not without its flaws. The production, while crystal clear, feels unbalanced at times. The bass levels do not feel consistent, and there are moments where you might strain yourself just to hear it. The vocals are also affected, with the vocal sound being dissimilar in several instances. Some of the panning also feels unnecessary and imprecise. The biggest complain would have to be towards the triggered kick-drums, which overwhelm the other instruments on occasion and prove to be an unnecessary distraction.
Conclusion: I, Human depicts that while Deus Ex Machina may not be fully reinventing the wheel, they are certainly mastering it, with great songwriting skills, competent musicianship and an innovative theme. The album may not be perfect, but it sure as hell is a lot of fun. Now all is needed is to get a chance to catch them at a live setting to see how it all translates on to the stage.