Review Summary: Initiate, upgrade, reboot.
Since its inception in the early seventies, heavy metal has been dropping a panoply of artists and bands that have stood out from their peers; not only for their mainstream success or overly provocative look but for their artistic relevance that somehow embodies the spirit of the times, echoing the sound and soul of an era. And although the genre has mostly gone underground in recent decades, we can still find some examples that stand out from the pack for a variety of reasons. Long Island’s extreme metallers Artificial Brain belong to this narrow niche. Their dissonant hybrid approach, which combines in a sci-fi narrative the grandeur of death metal with black metal's more emotional aesthetics, mirrors the bipolar personality of a generation that embraces and fuses various styles, rejecting one-dimensional orthodoxies. Labyrinth Constellation
and Infrared Horizon
both reflect this aggregative attitude, being leading exponents of a progressive dissonant output that has been on the rise in recent years, revitalizing the very foundations of the genre, giving it new forms and colors. As if Gorguts teamed up with Deathspell Omega in a sci-fi soundscape, led by one of the deepest gutturals known to man. A distinctive formula, mainly based on the contrasting combination between Will Smith's powerful vocals and dissonant high-pitched riffing, where the throat takes center stage, lending a particular charisma to the music. A bit like Oliver Rae Aleron & the Archspire boys. A perfect symbiosis. A bond that, in defiance of the death metal gods, is about to end, as the band's eponymous third album will be the last with Will Smith at the mic, granting it an aura of nostalgia and farewell, also adding an extra bittersweet layer to the mix.
You guys might be thinking I'm making too much of it, because at the end of the day it's just gutturals, right? A disposable asset; easily replaceable. Well, not really. Neither the band will ever be the same without Will, nor does Artificial Brain
fully assert itself in the present, being an echo of a recent past. We’re basically listening to what the collective once was, and not what it is now. And that's no minor detail to me.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that despite this setback Artificial Brain
does not disappoint. It retains the same ingredients as previous releases, both conceptually and musically. Will's lyrics continue to orbit a dystopian future, exploring themes such as madness or the inexorability of nature, and musically the collective doesn't stray from the dissonant path previously set. The formula remains essentially unchanged. The subtle melodic nuances lurking in 'A Lofty Grave' and 'The Last Words of the Wobbling Sun', or the saxophone in the final segment of 'Tome of the Exiled Engineer', add more color to the composition without necessarily providing greater contrast, acting as complementary embellishments to a larger main structure. However, Artificial Brain
has a slightly dirtier, heavier sound than Infrared Horizon
, lending it a less sophisticated look and feel. An approach which, despite its drawbacks, grants Artificial Brain
a personality of its own; a rawer character, if you will. This brings the music closer to Will's low-end gutturals while providing more body to Samuel Smith's bass. The album feels massive, like an intergalactic behemoth. The first single, 'Celestial Cyst', and 'Insects and Android Eyes' stand as the leading exponents of this interstellar third chapter, both including guest vocals from Mike Browning (Nocturnus) and Luc Lemay (Gorguts) respectively. 'A Lofty Grave', the straightforward self-titled opener, and 'Cryogenic Dreamworld' are also among the album's highlights, with the former featuring an interesting Warr guitar solo from Colin Marston (also responsible for the mix and mastering) and the latter spawning an overwhelming grind-ish section that precedes a no less interesting Anata-esque moment. As with previous releases, Artificial Brain
delivers a consistent output where everything sounds cohesive and premeditated, mirroring a properly matured musical formula. And while it can't be said to be the band's best release to date, there's no denying that Long Island's cosmic dissonant machine is once again focused and well-calibrated, making it a singular and inimitable product.
Though Artificial Brain's eponymous third chapter lives up to its legacy, it exudes an aura of (premature) nostalgia that overwhelms it with unexpected emotional weight. It is the inevitable bittersweet taste of farewell; the quasi-swansong of a collective that has ceased to be. And while we wait for the machine to reboot, let's all enjoy this interstellar journey as it uncovers some of the finest cosmic soundscapes the band has ever produced.