Review Summary: What happens when you take Strapping Young Lad, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and a few tabs of acid and put it into a blender? Autocatalytica.
This album just absolutely does not care. Where you come from, what you’ve heard before, or even if you can pronounce its name, none of it matters because it is here to rewire your programming and give you the shock therapy you didn’t know you needed. The artwork is even made out of their own drummer’s blood, as if to make it clear that Autocatalytica, and all that they stand for, is an intense experience.
The amount of detail and layering put into some of the sections in these tracks is usually confusing but at times, it can be borderline impossible to break through. The sounds will build and build, escalating to a density that seems like it could all compress itself into a singularity. It may be dizzying to navigate the mazes Autocat constructs, especially when there are four songs over eight minutes long and the other three have an equal amount going on in them but all of it gets folded in on top of itself. They sure don’t ease into it either, as opener, “Oxygonical,” chainsaws through you for four minutes of nearly unrelenting madness.
Eric Thorfinnson is the demented captain of this mutant ship and is all at once: songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, and producer. The man must live in a cave made of utter insanity and insomnia induced lucid dream nightmares because what bursts out of his mind is a cornucopia of disturbing yet colorful intrigue with just dash of humor wedged in for good measure. (Maybe he’s a Strapping Young Lad fan") Sporting brutal growls, hateful screams, soaring cleans, whisper soft croons, and bursts of fx laden craziness, his vocal delivery is a five-headed hydra throughout, and everybody has something to contribute. There are moments when the vocals lose their effectiveness by getting lost under the chaotic frenzy, but thankfully it’s more of an exception than the rule because Thorfinnson’s vocals are quite unique, and he pushes himself a great deal beyond where he was on the band’s debut, Horror Vacui.
Thorfinnson is joined on guitar duties by Erik Sorensen, and together they are a match made in a manic asylum patient’s heaven. The guitar chops on this album are staggering, and together, the Eric(k)s have one of the most distinct styles put to tape in recent memory. Their parts are dense and imaginative, avoiding tranditional “metal” guitar as much as possible. The duo can shred and solo with the best of them; however, the guitarists can also conjure up winding, angular riffs and delicate, thoughtful atmospheres. “Toxic Rodent Waterfall,” stands as possibly their most comprehensive work. It has it all from a head spinning main riff, an acoustic verse, trading expansive solos, tasteful use of pedal fx, and a psychotic finale to crush you into dust.
As an added bonus, the entire album is in E standard tuning, which seems like an impossible notion in this age of bass player liquidating 7, 8, and now, 9 string guitars. So where do they get all of the heaviness from" It just serves as a testament to how talented Eric and Erik are. All kinds of other non-metal influences shine through as well such as: jazz, latin, blues, and romantic orchestral; all as if to show the breadth of voices they can use besides their djunts, chugs, and dissonance, but when they’re doing that, holy demon lords below your hair will rise. Just reference, “Russian Pharmaceuticals,” for both the record’s most brutal sludgy breakdowns and an ending blues solo that would make Dime Bag Darrell proud.
Autocatalytica’s line-up has been a carrousel of members its entire life, and the position of bass has been the most difficult to tie down for the group. Handling duties this time around is Jon Ellis (currently of Oculesics) whose tone is mighty and thick throughout. The songs don’t really give him much of a chance to strut his stuff in a direct way, but with all of the frenzied insanity flying around him, just “locking it down” is probably the best thing for him to do. Perhaps he takes a page from the philosophy of someone like Liam Wilson from Dillinger Escape Plan: the music is difficult enough already with plenty going on, so why add one extra incongruous thing to the mix" It could only make a muddy mess. He can best be heard thundering way through the album's ender, “Toxic Rodent Waterfall.”
Last but not least is Emmett “Daniels” Ceglia on the drum kit. A total madman in his own right and from what he’s laid down here, he's probably related to Animal from The Muppets. Puppets aside, Chris Pennie and Ben Koller seem to be touchstones for his approach with many of his parts sounding like pure kinetic energy unleashed. Check out either, "Oxygonical," or the second verse of, "Russian Pharmaceuticals," for proof. Despite this though, he never forgets that drums must serve the song and can sit back in the pocket to set a groove when called for with the same conviction as he does in the-closest-thing-to-a-ballad, “Dweller on the Threshold,” or the haunting bridge of, “Heavier and More Melodic."
Lacking a click track, he is unencumbered to push and pull on the tempos and dynamics of each song as well as stretch out some improvisations in a fluid and natural way. This greatly adds to the intentionally unrobotic and organic universe the album lives inside of. The elastic breakdowns of both, "Oxygonical," and "Thunder Squirrel," probably could not have been made as disorienting as they did without that kind of freedom. Autocat has a curriculum’s worth of rhythmic territory and stylistic diversity to cover, and Emmett both bombards and glides thought it all with equal ease.
Overall, Autocatalytica stands as a direct challenge to metal, a 49 minute reaction of dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs – a stale, unmotivating, cannibalizing, robotic rut - overly blasted, broken down, and regurgitated. On this album, there is maniacal mayhem and mentally dysfunctioning assaults on the ears galore, but there is also serious groove, emotion, and depth (especially when it comes to dynamics) woven masterfully into each titanic song. They convey the feeling many a “math” or “progressive” flag bearer consistently lacks: cohesion.
For all the lengths they go to push the limits, the songwriting is so meticulous and obsessively composed, that the path taken from beginning to end is clearly purposeful, with not a measure wasted in making each song’s message completely fulfilled. Take the final two tracks penultimate, “Flesh Pillow,” and the aforementioned “Toxic Rodent Waterfall”. Both are extensive multi-faceted behemoths that remain clearly pieces from the same single tapestry. This shows that underneath it all, they are more than just blood and guts, and better yet, they are more than just metal.
The Brooklyn quartet is acutely aware that their expressiveness is not limited to 0, 1, and 10, but rather, that it is a spectrum to be explored for all of its nuances and possibilities. They are hell-bent on putting everyone else on their heels and then, knocking them right into the dirt. It is criminal that this is a sleeper release from a year ago. Dare not sleep any longer, get a copy, and push yourself.