Review Summary: Nothing new under the sun, or under the oven light.
After enduring typical food franchise fare, nothing can compare to the first bite taken of something extraordinary. Take the most elaborate dessert from a local baking wizard—some three or four-tier behemoth of a pastry—and stack it up against the competition, and there’s obviously a definite victor. It’s the sort of euphoria that makes tastebuds sing out in uproarious praise and prompts the existential dilemma of “could anything ever top this
？ Surely not!” To an extent, these situations might convert the ordinary consumer into a bona fide delicacy snob, their regular standards suddenly elevated to an increased level. Now take the same legendary cake, full secret recipe and all, pass it back through the inglorious cycle of chain restaurants, and watch the quality degrade. Some locales throw their hands up in defeat—f*ck it
, we’ll just copy it and give it a different name, trying to herald it as an original creation. Others try to get cheeky with cutting costs by investing in inferior ingredients while advertising the final dish at a much greater asking price. Somewhere within this convoluted analogy of elite baking lies Artificial Void
: an attractive-appearing slice of cake that distinctly wears the cut-off shoulders of the baking giants of yore, yet it’s djent-laden take on progressive metal features alluring promises of novelty. Perhaps it’s partially due to an accrued sense of superiority bred from that initial taste of cooking perfection, or perhaps the flagrant banality emitted by this particular product diminishes the value. What is certain is that Unprocessed’s third record falls short of achieving its lofty goals of crafting a futuristic, atmospheric concoction of progressive music.
Don’t let opener “Prototype” fool you with its intricate metalcore riffs and rapid-fire tempo manipulation—it’s nothing but a cherry added on top of an uncomfortably familiar recipe. Not once do these characteristics reoccur beyond this point. Instead, Unprocessed stick incredibly closely to tried-and-true-but-getting-outdated methodology that resembles any given record occupying the prog-core/djent sphere of musical categories. It’s a particular kind of identity that has pinned itself into a corner due to the tropes that define it as apparently mandatory conditions: excessive low-end abuse, standard djent guitar lines, predictable rhythms alongside linear song progressions, multiple moments of meandering, basic strumming, and then some exterior component is tossed into the pan to disguise the lack of activity happening in the tunes. For the purposes of Artificial Void
, keys and ambient electronics are applied throughout the record, supplying a technologically-imbued mood that constructs a futuristic aesthetic; the gradual build-up of “Ruins” embodies how well the German quintet can utilize synthetic contributions to augment their sonic output. Gentle strumming accompanies backing electronics as the vocals slowly push onward, their tone leveled at a monotone-esque middle range fitting for the robotic nature of the song. The other noted positive discovered early on is the maximized presence of the bass, whose distinctive timbre is audible at every moment of the disc, including a mean riff that kicks off the beginning of “Antler’s Decay.” Soundscape creation is the name of the game here, and for what it’s worth, Unprocessed clearly excel in this regard and are very content wrapping their audience up in a captivating ambiance.
That implementation of mood only goes so far; the new-idea department runs critically low by the time “Abandoned” rolls around, a track that starts to peel away the purported notion of uniqueness. It’s the same cake consumed years ago, the same one replicated countless times by peers, and by now it has become so stale that not even chocolate icing could salvage it. The limitations of Unprocessed’s genre of choice make it all too easy to tie Artificial Void
to preceding efforts, all of which presented the same sound yet did it better—or, at the very least, did it first. Traverse through a playlist of early Contortionist, Altered State
-era TessaracT, Februus
, and Periphery; the differences of these artists from Unprocessed is minimal, with the variances present only serving to downgrade the band’s individuality. Negativity leaves a sour taste in my mouth, though it is hard to ignore the urge in cases like this wherein another progressive collective falls into such predictable patterns to uphold a decaying style. Outside of the surprising appearance of an erhu (try to find that
in a game of musical bingo), “Abandoned” is standard djent fare through and through. Its formulaic approach, what with the underwhelming chugging and overdosage on the low end, takes away from the aforementioned success of “Ruins” since now it feels as though it wasn’t as fresh as it may have primarily appeared to be. Once a song on Artificial Void
begins, it is fated to embark upon a linear path to its generally anticlimactic conclusion, never incorporating intriguing instrumental breaks or toying with time signatures. Strong introduction notwithstanding, “Antler’s Decay” unenthusiastically caps off its duration by means of typical bouncing djent passages, killing off any momentum the musical number may have accumulated.
Strangely, for a djent release containing such a prominent bass, Artificial Void
frankly has a severe heaviness deficiency. Instruments have little punch and the elements surrounding them are so light that the included songs begin to drift away with nothing to make them memorable. The range of the vocalist at first comes across as an accurate representation of Unprocessed’s desired direction, yet his restricted singing maneuverability gradually transforms into an issue; the monotone delivery anchors crescendos, and the high notes that rarely enter are poorly supported. Moments seemingly destined for operatic brilliance like “The Movements, Their Echoes” with its contrived choir sampling are mired by poor singing, not to mention that the diminished weight of the instruments provide inadequate support. After all this complaining, however, I’m left wondering about prior misgivings: is Artificial Void
a poor album because it is so visibly derivative, or have achievements like Exoplanet
ruined expectations for any prog-core record coming my way？ The answer may be as simple as understanding it’s a combination of both: that delicious bakery craft from years ago, fresh out of the oven and primed for serving, rocked tastebuds and set a firm expectation for all other desserts, one that arguably morphed into an intractable obstacle. But it’s hard to pass over lingering feelings of suspicion when a cake from an entirely separate outlet looks like an identical, soulless copy, no departure from the local Wendy’s menu, which itself mimicked someone else. It’s a sensation of “haven’t we been here before, haven’t we done this all before？” When Artificial Void
slowly dissipates from the speakers, I can’t help but walk away feeling as though it’s the same-old cookery shenanigans disrupting dreams of innovation.