Review Summary: Best Thing to Come out of France Since Snooty Accents and Escargot.
Many countries in Europe have established themselves over the years as key contributors to the world's ever-growing metal community. France isn't one of them. England created the classic style of the NWOBHM, Sweden brought us Melo Death, and Norway, Black Metal. Even nations like Italy and Germany have made impressive impacts on the genres of Goth Metal, Metalcore, and Prog Metal, but for some odd reason, it has always seemed a bit of a rarity for one to hear about a worthwhile French metal band. However, just as of recent this seems to be changing with the advent of bands like Gojira and Symbyosis, carving out their own unique style of heavy music focused on harsh vocals, mathy riffing, progressive tendencies, and an undeniable sense of ambiance. Now (or I should say in 2007) a new band has arrived to take the burgeoning scene to new heights. This group is Hacride.
Hacride is a technical death metal band hailing from Poitiers, France that plays a style of metal that is very difficult to define or easily categorize. In several reviews I have read of their new album, Amoeba, many writers have name-dropped artists such as Meshuggah, Cynic, and Strapping Young Lad when describing their sound. It is easy to see where such comparisons come from in the group's liberal use of polyrhythmic riffs, electronic layers, calm clean sections, and raw ferocity. However, Hacride, unlike many new bands of recent, does not wholesale rip-off such influential groups, but instead forges a truly unique sound of their own. There are many things that metal is commonly associated with these days, but rarely does one ever think of a death metal band as being stylish, urban, and even sophisticated. Oddly enough, these are all adjectives that come to mind in describing Hacride. Amoeba, in this regard, sounds much more like a sonic backdrop to an edgy futuristic thriller, a la "The Matrix," rather than say "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (Friggen Great Movie by the way) where more generic, knuckle-headed heavy music is typically cast (Wyld Stallion!) Hacride is not so much the future of metal as they are metal from the future; a bright exciting future where pulsing electronics and fusion-esque leads light up the sky, but also hide the sinister conflict between the fearsome mechanical rhythms of the machines and the vulnerably human acoustic guitars and vocals. This is seen clearly in how so many of the songs have calm, clean intros that are vehemently engulfed by the band's monolithic walls of distortion. Amoeba is thus, a teetering balance of light and dark; hope and despair.
If that all sounds a bit too abstract and pretentious to be tasteful, let me explain it in a bit more of a direct fashion. Imagine if Meshuggah had gone in a totally different direction after "Destroy. Erase. Improve." keeping their fast, brutal technicality, but at the same time becoming much more ambitious and creative. The guitars and bass do far more than just screw with the listeners head, and shred, instead adding in Tool-like melodies and ambient parts as well as soothing acoustic interludes. The Drums supplement these diverse sounds beautifully with a fine mix of staggered polyrhythms, solid tribal grooves, and even Mars Volta's mind-bending latin beats. These instrumentations sound especially fierce when paired with the immense vocals of frontman, Sam Borreau. At a glance he sounds a bit like a deeper, eviler Jens Kidman, however, he quickly proves that he is capable of much more, namely clean singing... well sort of. There are no patented "Killswitch Choruses" to be found on the album, but Borreau instead utilizes a unique type of belted singing voice/tonal shouting in a handful of songs like "Perturbed," "Vision of Hate," and "Deprived of Soul" to great results. He also layers these gruff melodies in some of the tracks to create very cool harmonies.
The group's song-writing style is equally interesting. All of the non interlude tracks fall between the five to seven minute range and are chock full of technical breaks, dynamic shifts, crescendos, and decrescendos that are laid out in an unpredictable, yet cohesive fashion. Needless to say, one has to possess a certain level of disenchantment with the whole "verse-chorus-verse-chorus" structure to appreciate these hulking opuses. Some great examples of this style are found in the beautifully multifaceted epics "Deprived of Soul" and "On the Threshold of Death." Perhaps the finest example of the bands unadulterated creativity though, can be found in their unorthodox collaboration with Spanish flamenco collective, "Ojos de Brujo," on the song, Zambra. The track, featuring Spanish female vocals, rapping, latin percussion and solos, sounds like a mess on paper, but works unbelievably well, easily topping anything latin-metal bands like Ill Nino, Ankla, or Soulfly have ever done.
In the midst of all these claims of Amoeba being such a sophisticated and classy record, did I fail to mention that it is also heavy as f**k? Because it most certainly is. With the exceptions of the two very cool ambient interludes (Liquid and Ultima Necat) the album rocks hard from start to finish. Searing cuts like "Fate," "Strength," and "Cycle" are particularly brutal, with the latter song spanning an entire seven minutes with out a single dull moment as well as one of the most bad-ass riffs I believe I have ever heard in the chorus.
Hacride has undoubtedly put an immense amount of effort into Amoeba, however as an album it requires an equal level of ardor from the listener in order to be truly appreciated. It is by no means an accessible record; the songs are lengthy, erratic and totally devoid of radio-friendly choruses, Euro-guitar harmonies, and chugga-chugga breakdowns, however, the payoff of multiple listens is worth any metal aficionado's time. Highly recommended.