The Human Abstract
Digital Veil


4.5
superb

Review

by Philalethes USER (6 Reviews)
March 9th, 2011 | 26 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Have you ever wondered what kind of music Beethoven would write if he were a metal head? The Human Abstract's latest album offers a good guess.

So this isn't exactly what I would think that Beethoven would write, but I don’t often come across an album so good that I wish that everyone would appreciate it as much as I do. Digital Veil shouldn't be disregarded as just another average metal album, because with this album, The Human Abstract achieved something that is truly special. They have created an album that is firmly rooted in the classical music compositional tradition, but is fully realized through the modern style of metal music. It is an album that like a great work from Beethoven, deserves a deeper look.

With Digital Veil, The Human Abstract has become a full on technical metal band that treats each song as an opportunity to explore some aspect of classical music theory and composition. We aren’t talking your Youtube, Pachelbel’s Cannon in D style of simply playing classical pieces with distortion on a guitar here. Rather, The Human Abstract’s connection to classical music goes much deeper, such as the use of creative limitations in composing. Igor Stravinsky wrote about these creative limitations in the Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons. He famously said, “The more art is controlled, limited, worked over, the more it is free.” This Zen like approach to composing is trying to show that as a composer imposes some set of boundaries or limitations on a song, it offers the composer obstacles in which to creatively overcome. This makes their freedom of choice, in how to navigate and overcome these obstacles, all the more meaningful. AJ Minette cited in an interview with Metal Sucks, these very lessons on creative limitations from Stravinsky as an influence in the writing on Digital Veil.

A couple of examples of these creative limits are found in the songs Digital Veil and Holographic Sight. Both use non-traditional scales as the framework from which the song is then built-up. In the song Digital Veil, The Human Abstract makes use of the octatonic scale, which is a strange scale that has 8 notes in it instead the seven found in most scales. This leads to interesting dissonant harmonies and progressions not found in most music. Like Digital Veil, Holographic Sight is another song that also uses an exotic scale - in this instance the whole tone scale - as a means of a compositional framework to work within. In Holographic Sight, every note heard is part of a scale in which each note is separated from its neighbor by a whole step. This again gives the song a very different sound, due to the unique harmonies that are found within the framework of this scale. These two songs show The Human Abstract’s ability to step outside of the conventions of popular music, and create interesting music within self imposed limits of composing.

Another example of the use of classical traditions can be found in the best song from the album, Antebellum. In Antebellum, The Human Abstract uses the traditional sonata-allegro form as the framework for the entire song. In a nut shell, sonata form uses 2 main themes which are spread out over 3 sections (ABA’): the exposition, the development, and the recapitulation. In Antebellum’s exposition (A section), the first theme opens the piece, and is in the key of c minor. There is then some transitional material that leads to the second theme, which comes in at 1:40 in g minor. What makes this song amazing is how The Human Abstract is able to use these two themes in many creative forms, as they move through the predetermined limits of the sonata form. One such example is found in the next section, the development starting around 4:00.

The development (B section) is normally a section that explores new material, and is pretty open in its harmonic form. What is really cool in this section is how The Human Abstract is able to connect this section to a fragment from the opening theme of the song. This fragment is the second through the sixth notes from the opening theme of the song. At around 5:15 the rhythm guitar is playing this fragment in different keys, as the harmony moves upwards from e minor back to the home key of c minor. Then around 5:30, the singing also joins this fragment as they arrive at the next and final section, the recapitulation.

The recapitulation (A’ section) is really just a reprisal of the two opening themes from the exposition. What is interesting here is that after the first theme is done, instead of the piece using transitions to move back to g minor where the second theme originally was, the second theme now is climactically played in the same key of c minor. This brings closure and continuity to the two themes, and is quite impressive that Travis can belt out the melody in this upper register.

These examples really just scratch the surface of all the ideas presented in this album. Every song offers its own unique perspective and idea, such as the chromatic mediants that guide the form of the song Faust. Or, another example, the self referencing song Patterns, which uses a repeating arpeggio "pattern" on the guitar, giving a musical interpretation of the question asked in the lyrics “What’s the point of the these patterns,” a soliloquy on the search for a purpose or meaning in life.

Digital Veil presents a band that has been completely reinvigorated, with the return of AJ Minette on lead guitar and the new addition of vocalist Travis Richter. It also presents a band that has fully realized their collective vision of blending classical music and metal. Each musician on this record plays their respective instrument at the highest caliber. Every song presents a unique idea or sound, and yet sounds cohesive, collectively as a whole.

What impresses me most about this album, is how seamlessly The Human Abstract was able to wed the traditions of classical music and modern metal. To those who don't care about music theory, or even despise it, the fact that it is so deeply integrated in to this album shouldn't affect the overall experience. The songs sound great and are impressive in their own right, without even knowing about any of the theory behind them. To those who also enjoy an active listening experience, it adds a whole new level on which to experience their music. With Digital Veil, The Human Abstract have triumphantly proclaimed that they are one of the best acts in metal today, and I only hope that they continue making music so that we can see what other ingenious ways they can bridge the gap between classical music traditions and modern music.



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user ratings (1047)
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • pizzamachine (3.5)
    neo-classical metalcore may seem like a ridiculous premise, but the result is an enjoyable...

    Keira (4)
    Don't call it a comeback....

    mcg182 (4.5)
    The Human Abstract finally grow up as a band, and all it took was kicking out the old fron...

    TheOscillat0r (2.5)
    The Digital Veil will satisfy previous fans, but it is unlikely to win over any new ones....

  • drewcordova (4)
    Well written, beautifully executed, serious Progressive Metal. A contender for "Best Metal...

    SugarFreeSquid (2.5)
    Overall unsatisfying and far too short...



Comments:Add a Comment 
DBlitz
March 9th 2011


1693 Comments


lol'd at summary

TomArnoldsArmpit
March 9th 2011


3081 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

"and each other member more than holds there own."



Fix. Then, I'll neg.

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
March 9th 2011


32290 Comments


This review is far too fanboyish

Philalethes
March 9th 2011


245 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I like this. You might not. But I do. Just my opinion. Don't worry, yours is valid too!

scissorlocked
March 9th 2011


3537 Comments


Have you ever wondered what Beethoven might write if he were alive today and and metal head?

That's kinda over the top man

MO
March 9th 2011


23716 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"lol'd at summary" same here



I can't associate Beethoven with this band in any way

ZilbelPing
March 9th 2011


6303 Comments


I want to check this out. I doubt it's as good as you say, though.

TriangularDuck
March 9th 2011


90 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

it is that good, and I'd peg it as more Bach than Beethoven.

TriangularDuck
March 9th 2011


90 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

double post

BenedictVII
March 10th 2011


369 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Why isn't any Bach in the recommended music?

BenedictVII
March 10th 2011


369 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I just think you take the point of them having classical influence a little too far. Reading this review makes me want to hate this album.

Philalethes
March 10th 2011


245 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I like this. You might not. But I do. Just my opinion. Don't worry, yours is valid too!

Spec
March 11th 2011


36441 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This is actually pretty cool.

Dev518
March 11th 2011


581 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I've never been one that thought a music degree makes you a better songwriter.

Philalethes
March 11th 2011


245 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I like this. You might not. But I do. Just my opinion. Don't worry, yours is valid too!

ManicDemise
March 12th 2011


447 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This album is great.

iwubmoosik
March 12th 2011


386 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

"This album is great."





should be givin it a 3.5 then brah



Crimson Death
March 12th 2011


533 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

People don't understand the classical comparison, but I agree and do 2nd the Bach comment since he was famous for playing minor. It's not just this album, but a lot of technical metal/death metal work is an altered resurgence of Classical music. Speed, technique, changing time signatures...etc. Oh and Horizon to Zenith = Amazing!

Philalethes
March 12th 2011


245 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I like this. You might not. But I do. Just my opinion. Don't worry, yours is valid too!

deathridesahorse
March 13th 2011


65 Comments


it's not that metal music isn't classically influenced, it's that most metal heads don't really know what that means or how that works. most of my metal head friends always make this statement but can't follow it up with how or what tenets of classical theory are used in metal.



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