Piercing the Veil is a new column that aims to dive deep into themed bands, exploring what makes their concepts more than just a gimmick.

Meaty death metal riffs trigger pleasure receptors that no other sound can. They’re always welcome, like hot sauce or MSG. Sudbury, Ontario trio Fractal Generator fuse these instinctually satisfying riffs with a technicality unburdened by brashness and a mystifying science-fiction horror story. Their stupendous second album Macrocosmos concerns humans of the distant future discovering they exist inside a simulation. It’s a philosophical and atmospheric slab of death metal well worth your time, so don’t be alienated by the concept, the band's masks, or even their numerical aliases (for example, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Darren Favot goes by 040118180514, and guitarist Justin Rienguette as 102119200914).

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Fractal Generator formed in 2007 in snowy Sudbury, releasing a single EP before dissolving. Half a decade later they reformed with new intentions—the outfit became Favot’s vehicle for traversing science fiction themes he couldn’t explore through his main band, the pagan black metal group Wolven Ancestry.

Macrocosmos is set in a future where humans have plundered the Earth of its natural resources and scour the stars for a new home. To their horror, they discover their reality is a simulation. The narrative of Macrocosmos opens up questions about free will, preservation, human life, and morality - questions the duo were happy to discuss but were never at the forefront during songwriting. Instead, Favot and Rienguette prefer creating their worlds through songwriting.

The technical death metal tag and the introspective science fiction leanings suggest Fractal Generator are automatons dialing in perfect yet perfunctory lipid wankering. Thankfully, they combine their adoration for knuckle-dusting density with technicality and atmosphere. It's like getting abducted by aliens using a forklift instead of a tractor beam. "I always thought it was interesting to mix the heavy caveman stuff with the sophisticated stuff. You get this weird contrast," says Favot. This approach caters to the trio’s intensity: Fractal Generator groove where lesser tech death doubles down on the masturbatory. Favot continues; "The bands with too much soloing pull me out of the atmosphere. It’s something we try to avoid." Their tracks are concise, knotting together intricacies with a throaty mass. The groove midway through "Shadows of Infinity" and the conveyor belt hammering of "Primordial" are evidence enough of Fractal Generator’s tightly calibrated density.

What elevates Fractal Generator into the stratosphere is their subtle attunement to mixing. The synths and electronics swim in the background of Macrocosmos, a motif Favot claims is courtesy of Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. "(That album) left an imprint on me that the guitars should be up front. When you have the synths buried you have more going on that builds an atmosphere that isn’t so simple and in your face." Rienguette enjoys how it stimulates audience interaction. "In a lot of the albums I love there're things you don’t notice the first time around. You hear something new in the background. You have layers that accentuates the replayability."

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The band’s subdued electronics, along with their visuals, evoke a sci-fi ornamentalism. Their chrome dome masks, along with the coded names, create a membrane of mystery. It’s something Rienguette pines for. "With the large amount of behind-the-scenes stuff, which is cool, something is lost in terms of mystery involved and less imagination being put on to the listener." Functionally, the masks advance the impersonality of the horror of Macrocosmos. Fractal Generator are the nameless, faceless victims of humanity’s ongoing conquest. Their place in the universe is so miniscule they aren’t granted distinct personalities. Favot says they document the implications of human development. "We wanted to write the story of where humanity could go, what could happen with technology and what could go right or wrong. Exploring exactly how good and how bad things could go."

Favot doesn’t write with specific questions in mind. "I start (writing) by going into a world, and once I’m there the philosophical questions come up." This open-ended exploration festers an inquisitive environment without Fractal Generator having to jump to blunt conclusions. Take the role of the humans in the plot. Their discovering of a life lived in simulation petrified them, but does that remedy the war crimes and genocides they committed to preserve themselves? Does living in a simulation mean their heinous actions are morally inconsequential because they technically didn’t take place in real life? It’s only through Fractal Generator’s far-flung future fantasy that the band can contemplate these quandaries. "I’ve always been into sci-fi like Star Trek where it’s based on science and possible advancements. You use reality as your base point and take off from there," says Rienguette.

The questions of free will and preservation branch even further. The latter speaks to humanity’s ongoing situation with climate change and whether that goal of environmental activism is self-serving rather than charitable. "When we’re trying to preserve the environment, it’s because we’re trying to preserve ourselves. If there were no more humans how much would we care about the planet? At that point in the album’s story, we had already destroyed earth from whatever catastrophe we couldn’t handle and we’d moved into space. We’re trying to preserve ourselves because that’s what we do as humans." Further, Favot uses free will in the simulation as a metaphor for religion. "A lot of people are more atheist these days with the information we have, so it’s irrelevant for some to think about God. If you think of it as a simulation it’s more believable to ask what is right and wrong in that situation. What is meaningful?"

Fractal Generator’s attention to detail ripples outwards. Macrocosmos invites deeper inspection into its talking points and its understated instrumental layers. Like their ambient synth tones, the group’s philosophical underpinnings become more apparent the deeper one digs, but if you’re inclined to hear metal as catastrophic as a planet exploding, Fractal Generator scratch that itch just as well.

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Macrocosmos released January 15th, 2021 via Everlasting Spew Records.