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Progspot #1: Irreversible Mechanism, an Irreplicable Machine

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What is it that makes progressive metal so fascinating yet so contentious? Perhaps its inclination toward conceptual grandiosity and meticulously structured compositions turn some off from the style, but it is for these very same reasons that its disciples are so obsessive and meticulous in their understanding of its compositions. Maneuvering its way into every subgenre, it emerges through myriad guises across the globe and across time yet maintains no definite image or form; a creative force that is constantly focused on forward evolution inevitably transcends these boundaries.

Thus, the goal of Progressive Spotlight (or just Progspot) is to examine prog not as any concrete pre-existing category, subgenre, or style, but rather as an inventive, forward-thinking attitude toward the creation and presentation of music as art. Taking this more holistic approach, Progspot seeks to thoroughly analyze and dissect the cutting edge of innovative modern metal one specimen at a time, shedding light into their enigmatic corridors in order to understand their continued evolution.

Early 2015 marked the start of an almost Cambrian explosion of ambitious new technical death metal that persisted steadily throughout the next two years. Countless entries from upcoming and veteran tech-death groups alike were garnering press and high praise at an alarming rate, ushering in the long-awaited death of djent and subsequent resurgence of the grinding, serpentine flavors of technical prog first suggested in the 1990s. With its extreme volume, this tidal wave of releases was unavoidably heterogenous in quality; while certain groups’ new efforts became monumental landmarks within the genre, dozens more fell through the cracks, proving too thin and insubstantial to escape the event horizon of history’s black hole.

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One particularly prominent album within the former category was Infinite Fields, the debut full-length from Belarusian progressive tech-death duo Irreversible Mechanism. A thoroughly underground project, the group originally intended to distribute the record independently, first uploading it to their Bandcamp page on December 22nd, 2014. Twelve hours later, however, the stream had disappeared: after hearing only one track from the record, Finnish label Blood Music chose to sign the band and slated Infinite Fields for a March 31st release. Thus, Irreversible Mechanism surfaced on the cusp of this stylistic tsunami, appearing at exactly the right moment enshrouded in a perfectly illustrious veil of mystery, raising the questions of who was behind this enthralling music and what it was that made them stand out so boldly from the surrounding throng?

Hailing from the city of Minsk, Irreversible Mechanism was founded in 2012 by childhood friends Vladislav Nekrash and Yaroslav Korotkin. With Nekrash providing the band’s guitars and programming and Korotkin its bass and vocals, the pair wasted no time beginning to write material for a full-length album, composing nine fully fledged tracks and taking them into the studio less than a year after the group’s inception.

While far from devoid of metal on the whole, Belarus is a nation with a sparse technical death metal scene (albeit with another internationally noteworthy entity Essence of Datum). Furthermore, the nearest cultural hubs lie hundreds of miles away in Warsaw and Kyiv, the latter of which Irreversible Mechanism actually visited to complete the recording process for Infinite Fields. With incomplete percussion tracks and the absence of a studio drummer as the only impediments standing in the way of the record’s completion, the band expanded the scope of their search to international levels and requested the aid of legendary death metal drummer Lyle Cooper (Abhorrent, ex-The Faceless), one of the few musicians displaying the level of professionality and raw ability to complete their brainchild.

And it seemed that fate was in the band’s favor: after hearing the demos for Infinite Fields, Cooper was more than convinced to collaborate with the group, and agreed to consummate the record with his unrivaled skills.

Rarely does a band’s debut release so swiftly win them widespread attention within their genre, but few if any could be more deserving of such immediate renown than Irreversible Mechanism’s first venture. Packed with virtuosic instrumental performances, animalistic vocals, and lush atmosphere, Infinite Fields is a brazenly unrestrained demonstration of technical death metal, combining some of the genre’s most effective concepts and techniques into an irrefutably unique concoction — an endowment of their sound with an uncanny sense of novelty. At the same time, and at its core, Infinite Fields features structural organization and tonalities that are vitally similar to that of tech-death lineage; with no shortage of dual guitar solos, spiraling neoclassical arpeggios, and mathematically precise double bass, the record bears heavy resemblance to its forebears on many levels.

Infinite Fields holds the listener’s attention with clever diversions like surprising bursts of blackened death metal quickly transitioning into almost operatic melodic lines; it is the album’s rich texture, though, that sets it apart from its contemporaries. The added choirs, strings, and grand piano on this record imbue a sprawling sense of fantasy equal parts symphonic and futuristic, with certain passages reaching cinematic intensity and grandeur. This once again proves Irreversible Mechanism’s uncanny ability to extract new concepts from pre-established ones: though they did not pioneer the use of atmosphere or neoclassical solos in metal, they are able to successfully re-organize these elements into imaginative and compelling new combinations.

Rather than simply imitating one style of tech-death, they assessed the genre holistically and asked themselves what it still lacked, and ergo what their role would be in its further development. Infinite Fields defines itself as prog not simply because it “sounds progressive” but because it takes a step into the unknown, seeking first and foremost to further the evolution of a certain already-established sound.

High praise for Infinite Fields does not necessarily suggest that the debut was without flaw, or that it in any way represents Irreversible Mechanism’s magnum opus. While it exceeded expectations, it also displayed definite potential for conceptual growth and a more polished presentation. A whirlwind of various musical ideas flies past the listener at a blistering pace, often not lingering long enough to be properly understood as they are brusquely pushed aside to make room for more pummeling riffs and towering solos. Featuring mind-blowing, almost machine-like performances, its production is unfortunately not nearly as crisp as its musicianship, and at times sounds lackluster and coarse with Korotkin’s vocals becoming inaudible or buried altogether. And although the unusually lavish variety of keyboard samples on the album is one of its major strong points, it often becomes over-the-top, almost carnival-esque, and could have benefited from a measured dose of restraint or adjustment.

There are moments on Infinite Fields that lean heavily toward unbridled Necrophagist and The Faceless worship; although Lyle Cooper had no hand in the album’s compositional process, the cosmically progressive variant of tech-death perfected on Planetary Duality and Autotheism was clearly a major influence on Nekrash and Korotkin. While these are by no means unsatisfactory groups to emulate, the similarity between their already prominent sound and Irreversible Mechanism’s brand-new material suggests the possibility of the latter eventually falling into the ensnaring clutches of the “prog paradox” — the contradictory idea that progressive music can be created by imitating preceding groups within the genre.

But those who attempt to create “prog” by simply reproducing previously explored interpretations — as well as those who seek to impress by means of complexity alone — create music that often lacks the organic, human authenticity that delivers it across the threshold separating topicality from timelessness. While Infinite Fields is an innovative album, it often aims for the mind rather than the heart, the cerebral rather than the emotional, and presents Irreversible Mechanism with a crucial challenge: would their inevitable growth as an outfit yield truly progressive forward evolution, or would they become satisfied and plateau at the substantial caliber of artistry already attained?

The period between a band’s debut and their sophomore release is a thrilling yet volatile time, presenting just as many obstacles as opportunities on the road to maintained success. With the immense and sudden popularity of Infinite Fields, the duo’s first order of business was to recruit new touring members. Existing up to this point as a primarily studio-based project, the group still required a drummer, bassist, and rhythm guitarist to perform their music in a live capacity. Irreversible Mechanism’s second guitarist came in 2015 in the form of Andrei Parmon; professional session musician Pavel Semin was then recruited as the band’s bassist later that same year, after which the newly expanded outfit began to diligently rehearse material from Infinite Fields. With a handful of live drummers to round out the quintet, Irreversible Mechanism spent much of 2016 and 2017 playing frequent shows in Minsk and the surrounding areas, traveling as far as Moscow to perform for their newfound fans. Sustaining a characteristically tireless sense of momentum during the tour cycle for the first album, the group simultaneously began to formulate structural themes and concepts for their next effort (by 2017, the founding duo were already underway in the compositional process for Irreversible Mechanism’s colossal sophomore album.)

And during this time, Infinite Fields had gained a near iconic reputation within the savvier circles of its genre’s culture, drawing comparisons to milestones such as Rivers of Nihil’s Monarchy, Virvum’s Illuminance, and the prototypical atmospheric tech-death album The Flesh Prevails by Fallujah. It is important to realize, however, that Infinite Fields actually predates all of these albums by over a year (except for The Flesh Prevails, which was written within the same timeframe and released only months prior). It was a major forerunner and perhaps even an instigator of the symphonic, atmospheric movement within tech-death, even if it is not a fully matured presentation of the style. Despite the considerably greater success achieved by the aforementioned bands that had drawn from this sound, Irreversible Mechanism’s magnitude did not go without its due acknowledgement: during mid-2017, in an almost cyclical fashion, the group once again gained the attention of a renowned and extremely decorated percussionist, Dan Presland of Ne Obliviscaris and Alluvial.

When the outfit officially announced that Presland had tracked drums for their upcoming album, fans braced themselves for a truly formidable and game-changing installment in the annals of progressive technical death metal.

By early 2018, it seemed that the stars had aligned for Irreversible Mechanism: much of the tracking of their new material was already complete, and the upcoming follow-up to Infinite Fields called Immersion was slated for an autumn release, once again through Blood Records. But no band can exist indefinitely without turbulence in its history; before he had even recorded Immersion’s vocals, Korotkin stepped down from his position in the group, permanently leaving Irreversible Mechanism. With one half of the original duo gone, it felt that the outfit was now in a second phase of sorts — while Nekrash and Korotkinr were the primary composers on both albums, only Nekrash contributed to both studio recordings, with newly recruited vocalist Ilya Studenok taking up the mic on the new album. If nothing else, the radical change in lineup from the recording of Infinite Fields to Immersion would foresee an equally radical development in the band’s sonic approach to the genre.

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Immersion is indeed tremendously different from Infinite Fields. Although the core sense of musicality and underlying structural techniques are essentially the same on both records, the group’s sound matured tenfold on Immersion; keyboards samples and simulated orchestral instruments evolved into fully engaging synthesizers and electronic elements calling to mind the darker side of synthwave. Studenok’s vocal performance is consistently impressive across his wide range, a vivid pallet incorporating gut-wrenching death growls, harrowing screams, and — for the first time in the band’s career — passionately expressive melodic lines (highlighting the album’s various calm, ambient passages.) Tying together these textures are the record’s vastly improved production and engineering, which eloquently accentuate and blend together both the delicacy of its lighter moments and the unforgiving brutality of its death metal fury.

Ultimately, Immersion is a dynamic work that achieves an immaculate overall feeling of fluidity across its ten tracks without sacrificing an ounce of flair or grandeur.

Having previously exhibited the tendency to haphazardly maneuver between musical concepts, the band saw Immersion as an opportunity to thoroughly flesh out every idea present, allowing individual passages ample space to breathe and flourish while omitting filler riffs. Because of this broadened sense of perspective (and much longer runtime of 52 minutes), many of the motifs first introduced on Infinite Fields have returned in a widely expanded capacity: for example, the two-minute orchestral track leading into Infinite Fields finds its counterpart in Immersion‘s five-minute introductory opus, “Existence I: Contemplation” (which then seamlessly transitions into its punishingly heavy counterpart “Existence II: Collision.”)

Immersion features entire compositions devoted to creating complex moods and atmospheres, like on the fourth track “Simulacra” which consists almost entirely of synthesizers, drum machines, clean vocals, and other atmospheric elements, serving as a moment of respite between two of the album’s most grueling compositions. This increased attention to textural detail also sees the band experimenting with alternative instrumentation, having recorded the album using seven-string guitars and a fretless six-string bass; it attains a luxuriously jazzy timbre that imbues the listener with a warm sense of, well, immersion within this illustrious world.

Immersion also represents a marked conceptual shift for Irreversible Mechanism. Although both of the group’s albums were crafted around a central theme, the ideas behind their debut were conveyed in a direct narrative, while Immersion takes a more subtle and philosophical approach to its transferal of meaning. Each albums’ cover art serves as a metaphor for its distinct style: the first features visuals surreal yet recognizable and tangible, but the second features forms more elusive and decidedly abstract. Also, the story of Infinite Fields is based on a post-apocalyptic struggle between the forces of nature and the consequences of mankind’s ignorance, while Immersion emphasizes an emotional introspective journey into one’s own mind. By shifting from straightforward external themes to heartfelt internal ones, Irreversible Mechanism showcased progressive tendencies not only tonally and compositionally, but psychologically as well.

In the words of guitarist Andrei Parmon, the band’s main goal with Immersion was “to create our own world within this album with its own rules, colors, and atmosphere. It’s more intimate, more deep and personal; that means the band is progressing, evolving in every single way.”

In the six months since the September 14th release of Immersion, Irreversible Mechanism’s reputation has burgeoned once again, this time spreading far beyond the realm of tech-death and into the larger metal world. Finally achieving a palpable international breakthrough, the group recently completed their first ever headlining tour, a European run in support of the album with new live drummer Yan Aladov. The apex of this excursion came with the group’s appearance at Complexity Fest in Haarlem, Netherlands, sharing the bill with impressive names such as Zeal and Ardor, The Ocean, and Shining (Norway) — and Irreversible Mechanism was one of the only tech-death bands included in the extensive lineup, exemplifying their latest album’s success in broadening their stylistic appeal.

Though it may seem unfairly early to start pondering what this group will invent next, it is more likely than not that deep within Nekrash’s mind, the first seeds of Irreversible Mechanism’s next exhilarating adventure are already being sown. As for what it might sound like, we need only to look to the cutting, progressive edge of technical death metal to begin to think along the same lines as the band — in their own words, “everything is evolving and it’s not good or bad, it’s just how it is; the only thing we can do about it is to become better and better.” Like clockwork, the band seems to function on a three-year cycle, and despite a constantly revolving cast of contributors, they have yet to break their chronological consistency — maybe with our patience and luck, Irreversible Mechanism will emerge in 2021 bearing a masterful and perfectly executed demonstration of technical, progressive majesty.

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