If we’re gonna talk about Artificial Brain and their new behemoth of an album Infrared Horizon, we need to talk about space. And I don’t mean space as in the overall concept of the record, or indeed of the band’s thematic palette. I’m talking about the space in between notes, the dynamic release of tension that is essential in order to break apart the monotony that a record this dense can easily fall prey to.
In other words, let me tell you how Artificial Brain learned every lesson they needed to learn in order to craft one of the best death metal albums of the year.
I didn’t care what kind of music it was: I saw the cover to 2014’s Labyrinth Constellation and I knew I needed that album in my life. A dense, dizzying array of technical death metal with an angular, dissonant buzz reminiscent of bands like Obscura-era Gorguts and the more melodic moments (seconds, really) of Portal, it was unfortunately a case of admiration more than outright enjoyment. Besides a slightly muddy production, the riffs piled so quickly on top of each other you couldn’t get any real sense of where the songs were going. There was no denying the talent on display — everything is razor sharp and precise like any music of this genre should be — but aside from a few bright moments (including all of “Absorbing Black Ignition” which is maybe the best song on the record) after multiple listens I was left understanding what I heard but without anything really sticking as a distinct, memorable experience. It felt more like an exercise than a cohesive album. I realize I was and still am in the minority on this opinion, but my point is this time around it was going to take more than an amazing album cover to convince me to turn around on the band.
And goddamn…what an album cover. Lyrically the album is structured as a narrative where robots have evolved in a desiccated future to the point where they no longer think of themselves as created by human beings but as the next and eventual evolution of humanity. Musically? It’s a whirling dervish of the ideas set forth on the previous album, but with a much stronger ear toward ensuring there’s a solid structure to hold the dozens of riffs that speed by on each song, and enough space to let the ideas linger just long enough to hook into the folds of your brain and not let go. Colin Marston, who recorded and mixed/mastered Labyrinth Constellation mans the boards again here, but wisely opens the sound wide for everything to breathe, even as it’s going 100 mph (kph for those of you outside the US – we here at Nine Circles recognize your superior measurement skills!). The space I’m talking about here in no way should be taken to mean the album is any less brutal or harsh — Gorguts is still very much a touchpoint here — but immediately on opener “Floating in Delirium” you can hear how each note plays against the other to create tension. The insane drum pummeling courtesy of Keith Abrami is just as fast as ever, but you can ear all the shifts in syncopation as he matches the ferocity of guitarists Dan Gargiulo and Jon Locastro.
And then there’s those ear worms: the final 90 seconds of “Synthesized Instinct,” the rolling, spacious opening of “Mists Like Mercury” before it clashes into a maelstrom of competing ideas with the versatile roar/screech of Will Smith (not that Will Smith, but try and get the mental image out of your head). Smith deserves some special kudos for what he manages to pull off on Infrared Horizon. In a genre where technicality reigns supreme it’s easy to forget there’s a dude screaming his head off, but the range that Smith shows is incredible. Going from high pitched squeal to pig grunts in the same song and making it work as an instrument as opposed to a simple effect is a feat, and Smith, who’s having a great April with the latest from Buckshot Facelift coming out last week, integrates with the band seamlessly.
I can point to moments on every track that reinforce the growth in songwriting and use of dynamic tension Artificial Brain have brought to Infrared Horizon. It’s the mark of a band who has come to the full realization of what they can achieve, and a lesson to the multitude of bands out there who think jumbling 24 riffs into 10 seconds at breakneck speed is anything other than a joke. Or grindcore, I guess, which is no joke but an article for another time. For now let’s all bask in an album whose amazing cover only hints at the greatness within, and hope the fury Artificial Brain sets forth inspires others to follow suit. This is a blast and an easy early contender for any EOY list.
And if you don’t believe me just ask my robotic overlords who at this very moment are harvesting my synaptic pulses as sustenance for the wriggling cyberworms down in the Hatchery.