Alchemist
Spiritech


4.5
superb

Review

by Butkuiss USER (12 Reviews)
October 3rd, 2010 | 35 replies


Release Date: 1997 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The definining classic of one of the most underrated bands ever to come out of Australia.

There’s an ominous humming in the background. It’s faint; not quite discernable. But it’s growing closer. Soon you can make out individual notes. A rhythmic sequence of guitar notes accompanied by faint percussion fades into range. It’s getting louder. And closer.
And suddenly you’re buried in a wall of sound and your world descends into madness.

From the moment Alchemist’s Spiritech begins, it is apparent that there’s something different about this album. It’s not just Roy Torknington’s and Adam Agius’ unique, alien riffs, nor is it Agius’ somehow offbeat vocals. It’s not just Rodney Holder’s fluid, almost tribal drumming. It’s not just John Bray’s rhythmic bass assault, nor is it the spidery , atmospheric background electronics woven into the album. It’s not easily identifiable. But one thing is obvious- Alchemist make extremely unique music. Once described as the “Pink Floyd of Metal”, Australia’s criminally underrated Alchemist have been churning out album after album of mind-bending progressive metal in obscurity since the early nineties. Not many people have ever heard of them. But for the select few that have, whether through their “breakthrough” Organasm, their follow ups Tripsis and Austral Alien, or their underground sensation Spiritech, the truth is undeniable. Alchemist make amazing music, music that in actuality has to be heard to be believed.

The album’s frontrunner, the nine minute Chinese Whispers, opens with the aforementioned fade-in of guitar and percussion. The tension rises, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as the eerie intro gently hums out of your speakers. But it only lasts a second before the guitars descend into oblivion, the drums and bass kick in, and the sonic assault begins. Like a kick in the face, the mid-paced drumming propels the song forward as the guitars switch between bottom-end tremolo riffing and eastern-influenced melodies. And then the chorus hits, descending into a crazed, burning segment of aural fury, carried by Agius’ otherworldly, spine chilling “Banshee Screams” (as he himself has dubbed them). Almost as soon as you start to recover from the initial shock of the sheer oddity of this music, Alchemist hit you with the blindsiders they have waiting in the wings. One after the other, synth breaks, speedy bass-led sections, a keyboard solo and an ambient break-to-climax that wouldn’t sound so out of place on a Post-Rock album all come into play, before, nine minutes in, the album delivers the knockout punch.
You realise you’ve only listened to one song.

Spiritech continues on, delivering unexpected twist after unexpected turn. Aside from the mainstays of their sound-the power grooves, tremolo riffs, unsettling chords and quickly-shifting astral melodies- the band manages to mutate their sound to almost avant-garde levels for their prog-metal direction. Here, in Beyond Genesis-a Floyd-influenced synth-break that manages to turn the song a complete 180 degress. There, in Staying Conscious-a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in a dance club or rave. Inertia contains psychedelic influences enough to take you on an acid-less acid trip, while Spiritechnology even samples Richard Nixon discussing extraterrestrial life and the possible impacts it may have on human religion. Road to Ubar contains brilliant tribal-influenced drumming and middle-eastern influences. Dancing to Life, in essence, is electronic music adorned with hints of metal. Throughout the album, even Aboriginal Australian music manages to show up in the background, from clapping sticks to the fabled didgeridoo, not to mention the subtly interwoven atmospheric synths. Amazingly, Alchemist actually manage to make it all work-the most eclectic range of sounds and influences one is likely to find this side of Frank Zappa all manage to meld completely, creating highly unique, eerie soundscapes that have to be heard to be believed.

The lyrics and vocals are performed in almost just as wide a range as the music itself on Spiritech. Adam Agius has perhaps one of the most recognisable throats in metal today, and his vocals, far removed from their original death metal territory, now encompass everything from eerie chanting to whispering, oddly-textured shouting to his original yet still excellent death growls, to his ultra-high pitched banshee shrieks, to odd, almost alien-sounding melodic singing, sometimes all within a single song. The lyrics are no less wide ranged-topics of technology, mysticism, the human condition, extraterrestrial life, the natural world, and even evolution are hidden behind Agius’ sometimes indiscernible throat shredding. But this vast range of vocal stylings and topics only serves to accentuate and amplify the oddity of the music.

The production brings out the best of the music in Spiritech. Clear, but just murky enough to save some of the inner nuances for later listens, the production accentuates what makes Alchemist so great. The guitars are front-and-centre, but never completely take over the sound, instead happily playing alongside the rest of the band rather than over them. The bass isn’t quite as clear as other prog-metal bands would have it, but it’s still miles more audible than on your typical record, and fluid, pulsating basslines can be heard the album over. The drum production is excellent-allowing the drums to carry and support the music with their large presence while never pushing other parts of the whole to the back (ala In Flames’ Colony). The vocals are at times slightly (and purposely) buried under the wall of sound, but never enough that they become inaudible. Rather, this allows the instrumentation-the main focus of the band’s sound-to shine through. Nevertheless, the award for best sounding instrument on the album goes to the synth. Always audible, yet never annoying, always a central part of the music but never the central focus, Alchemist manage to incorporate keyboards completely and wholly without sounding ridiculous, something that few bands ever achieve.

Regardless of all the praise, Spiritech is still an amazingly hard listen, and many will be turned off by its progressive and at times almost alien sound and the mammoth songs. Some may find it will take over ten listens to appreciate the album; some may take upwards of fifteen. The vocal stylings aren’t likely to appease all but the most open-minded or tolerant metalheads. But there isn’t a weak moment on Spiritech. Sure, Road to Ubar might stumble a bit towards the middle, but it’s also the shortest and most conventional track on the album, and this just proves what is already common knowledge. Alchemist excel at making extremely weird music. On par with Floyd-influenced metal greats such as Voivod and Ulver and Hawkwind, Alchemist excel at mixing the most eclectic and varied of influences into their one, avant-metal flavoured pot. After two albums, Alchemist have finally done their name unequivocal justice with Spiritech.



Recent reviews by this author
Cage Kill the ArchitectBetween the Devil and the Deep Paper Spine
Duality and the Republic UnoThe Jezabels Prisoner
Delusion Twin A Damaged MachineMonuments We Are the Foundation
user ratings (21)
Chart.
4.1
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Butkuiss
October 3rd 2010


4249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Feel free to comment; feedback is much appreciated. First review I've written in a long time. Great band, I'd reccomend all metal and prog fans listen to them at least once.

Digging: Musk Ox - Woodfall

kangaroopoo
October 3rd 2010


3175 Comments


Great detailed review. I actually don't have this nor Lunasphere.

I realise I've barely heard half of Spiritech. What I have is experimental, atmospheric, synth/electronic, cosmic and heavy. Will have to get it.

Organasm my best but Spiritech could be more loved on Sputnik. Will have to get it now.

Butkuiss
October 4th 2010


4249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I haven't actually listened to Tripsis or Lunasphere either yet; my latest acquisition was Organasm. I actually could never get into Organasm as much as Austral Alien (my first) or Spiritech. And yeah, that's generally what it sounds like.

Glad to finally find a fellow Alchemist fan, even if we have spoken before. Thanks!

kangaroopoo
October 4th 2010


3175 Comments


Yeah, Alchemist make quality music and they have a solid discog.

Plenty of Sputnikers would dig them.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
October 4th 2010


6276 Comments


i can't find this anywhere, unfortunately...

terribly underrated band.

Austral Alien, Tripsis and Organasm are HUGE.

Kudos for reviewing this, there are many obscure bands that need more attention by sputnikers.

Pos'd.

Digging: Varathron - Untrodden Corridors of Hades

Mordecai.
October 4th 2010


8281 Comments


great band

Jim
October 4th 2010


5110 Comments


i've only got tripsis and austral alien. i love how they attempt to infuse a real australian influence on those albums.

i should probably expand my alchemist discog.

Butkuiss
October 4th 2010


4249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

If you think Austral Alien and Organasm are huge then you should give this a listen. It's colossal. Spiritech has less of the Australian influences than on Organasm or Austral Alien but is a great deal more varied than both, and you can still hear very clearly the Australian influences. This really is the kind of band that most sputnikers would love, perhaps even as much as SikTh or Converge. But at the same time, I'm kind of reluctant to share these guys around. They're kind of my own secret band I keep in my back pocket and carry everywhere with me...

Jim
October 4th 2010


5110 Comments


you selfish cad.

i'll keep an eye out for this, i suppose.

Butkuiss
October 4th 2010


4249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Ha, I've been told many times. And yeah, album is well worth the purchase, even if you have to special order it in.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
October 4th 2010


6276 Comments


And yeah, album is well worth the purchase, even if you have to special order it in.

There is no place on the web that i can order this, because it's so rare.

And even if i find it somewhere, it will be outrageously expensive, due to its rareness.

Let's hope that Relapse Records will re-issue this sometime...

BeyondSanity
October 4th 2010


130 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Such a good album.

Donchivo
October 4th 2010


466 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

great review, props for this and for promoting the mighty Alchemist!! I want this so bad as its successor Orgasnasm is one of my alltime faves, but it's just inaffordable...

Digging: Savage Grace - Master Of Disguise

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
October 4th 2010


6276 Comments


but it's just inaffordable...

This.

Unfortunately...

Butkuiss
October 4th 2010


4249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I'm lucky in that I got my alchemist collection off an old friend who was no longer into metal. But I feel for you guys; it really is a shame their earlier works aren't available for anyone to hear any more. I'm about halfway through an organasm review, so expect that up in a few days; then after that I might do austral alien and finally hear lunasphere and tripsis. On a side note, I just realised you can actually buy alchemists work on the iTunes store (here in aus at least). It's not ideal, but hey, it's better than nothing I guess.

conesmoke
March 4th 2012


5275 Comments


Criminally underrated band. If they had the support they deserve maybe they would have continued to make albums.



conesmoke
March 4th 2012


5275 Comments


such a hard album to find

conesmoke
March 5th 2012


5275 Comments


"Let's hope that Relapse Records will re-issue this sometime..."

I wish


Butkuiss
March 5th 2012


4249 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Wait, what, these guys broke up!? I lost track of them a year or two ago.

conesmoke
March 6th 2012


5275 Comments


indefinite hiatus.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy