I’ve been further outside the world of death metal this year than I’d like to be, and have kind of succumbed to the massive revival of OSDM (Old School Death Metal for you young metalheads, and Heavy Screamy Growly Cookie Monster Music for you normies) craze that has swept through everyone’s most spun metal records. Now, don’t get me wrong. OSDM fuckin’ rules, and many of the revival bands are killing it, just like their predecessors. One look at Toronto’s very own Tomb Mold and their unholy offering from this year, Manor of Infinite Forms, will tell you OSDM ain’t just for curmudgeony grandpas anymore. But alas, I’m not here right now to talk about OSDM, but new death metal. Music that doesn’t just rehash what happened in 1991, but builds on everything that’s happened to death metal in the past few decades and then pushes it forwards even more. And I’m not just talking about heaviness, technicality, and speed. Bands have already seen those to their mindbending apices. We’ve maxed out to nearly the human limit on those elements of heavy music and now in a post-maximal world of death metal, you can’t really objectively compare bands on speed, technicality, and heaviness.
All that’s left to push is songwriting and creativity. How exciting is that?
Artificial Brain is a sci-fi themed technical death metal band from New York that made waves with their 2014 debut Labyrinth Constellation, which admittedly, I have not listened to yet. In my traditional fashion, I don’t really care and will get around to listening to it whenever, I guess. The entire internet seems to be heralding Artificial Brain as Demilich 2.0 and I can’t quiiiite hear the entire comparison, and honestly I’m pretty glad because Demilich is just incomprehensible nonsense. Even on the 10th anniversary edition reissue of Nespithe, I can barely make it through the first track (get at me, Demilich fans). Infrared Horizon on the other hand is entirely defined in sound all the way through. I’m happy to credit the production values available 25 years after the Finnish pioneers debuted to how much more I prefer Infrared Horizon to Nespithe, because Artificial Brain’s newest opus is hella dense and really requires a fine attention to detail in it’s production to really be as good as it is.
The songs themselves are wild and unpredictable, but never devolve into complete riff salad and technical wankery. Sections twist, turn, and lurch from one to another, with the instrumentation ranging from atmospheric and expansive to crushingly dissonant and tense. The ideas presented have enough time to breathe and expand before the next idea shreds them to pieces like violent explosive decompression. As mentioned above, I’m not really going to rattle on about how blisteringly fast or monolithically heavy this album is, since you can find peers in the school of technical death metal who meet or exceed the effort of Infrared Horizon (cough, Origin’s new album, cough). The guitar work splashes through discordant, jazzy harmonies and tremolo picked passages which really feels out of this world in it’s execution, and with the occasional use of clean guitar over gnarly tech-death helps create even more space and atmosphere is unlike anything else I’ve heard in a long time.
The atmosphere and futuristic dystopian mood created by Artificial Brain is the first and foremost thing brought to our ears, and you might think that all this talk of dissonance and challenging music means that Infrared Horizon might be very one note throughout. While this album clocks in at over 45 minutes, there is enough variance throughout to keep you hooked. Melodies do creep out of the infinite cosmic void, anchoring your ears to a comprehensible reality before firing all thrusters in the opposite direction rending them swiftly from your head when you least expect it. The vocals range from gurgled gutturals a la Ritual Necromancy to high pitched metal wails and shrieks which helps prevent the album from feeling repetitive, especially to anyone who might be new to the dissonant, progressive tendencies and who needs something to help ground them in their first couple listens through.
All this being said, regardless of how you feel about the way I’m presenting this music, Infrared Horizon is not for the faint of ear. It is challenging, and I say that as someone who non-ironically likes Swordfishtrombones and The Life of Pablo. If you’re definition of death metal starts and stops at Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb of the Mutilated, Infrared Horizon is going to be a bad time. If you’re willing to shed the dusty, old school style Death or Immolation worship and stretch your perception of how much music can sound like a graveyard of spaceships being pulled into a black hole, then Artificial Brain will be the band to spark a new light in your blackened soul. Artificial Brain is the future of death metal, and the future is now, old man.