Song debut: Artificial Brain – “Labyrinth Constellation”
Demilich, who were one of '90s death metal's most unusual bands, reissued their short discography via Svart last week. We don't typically cover reissues here, but former IO contributor Hank Shteamer wrote a worthy review of the set over at Pitchfork. This bit jumped out at me in particular:
So will 20th Adversary raise the profile of Nespithe, vault it into the realm of consensus cult classics such as Obscura? It's certainly a possibility, given how convincingly the music speaks for itself. In the larger death-metal narrative, though, Demilich will probably never be more than a bizarre bit player—and one gets the sense that the band is perfectly okay with that.
Hank is right that Nespithe will probably never posthumously break into the central death metal canon, but it has reached tendrils of influence into our time nonetheless. One of them rests on Artificial Brain's neck.
I've been waiting for Labyrinth Constellation, AB's full length debut, to come out for a few years now — ever since a friend tipped me off that a guitarist from Revocation was playing in a weird death metal band out on Long Island. It is fitting that the album will finally drop a month after the Demilich reissue, as Artificial Brain have more direct ties to Demilich than most. Vocalist Will Smith used to be in Biolich, a former Demilich tribute which toured with Demilich briefly during their brief mid-aughts reunion. You can still hear the Nespinthe influence in Artificial Brain's music: in their sparse use of palm-muting; in their winding song structures; most of all in Smith's intestinal vocals & cosmic lyrics. (He sports thematically appropriate mad-scientist goggles onstage.)
But for the most part, Artificial Brain venture beyond the bounds of their most obvious source of inspiration. Current death metal usually gets bifurcated into "old-school" and "modern" varieties, but it's not totally clear which camp would be a closer fit for this album. Its touchstones are mostly older — you can hear a lot of Voivod and Morbid Angel in Labyrinth Constellation, and Paolo Girardi's cover art recalls some of Dan Seagrave's mechanically-minded work. But its production is timeless, and the band's precise command of technique easily satisfies contemporary standards.
Most discussion of this album will probably focus on its dissonance and weirdness, of which there's plenty. But there's also lots of good old diatonic melody too, which Artificial Brain's guitarists like to drape over long arpeggiated chord sequences. These parts ring with a sort of black metal despondence that reminds me of The Chasm a bit — they're precise but still emotive, and they often constitute the high point of the songs they're part of.
The opening riff to the title track, which we're streaming below, is an excellent example. Guitarists Dan Gargiulo and Jon Locastro weave together night-sky harmonies over Sam Smith's hummable bass line. Then Keith Abrami leans into a blastbeat, and the whole song heaves itself airborne, taking the listener with it. It's a great set-piece on an album that's loaded with them. Death metal is all about effective teamwork, and these five musicians play off each other to hair-raising effect multiple times per song.
With all this talk of the past, it's easy to forget that death metal is still a living genre. Even three decades into its existence, it is growing and evolving. Its canon of essential albums is still expanding. Labyrinth Constellation sees Artificial Brain on the cusp of earning a spot in that canon. Debut albums don't get much more exciting than this.
Labyrinth Constellation comes out on February 21st on Profound Lore. Stream its title track (and check out its lyrics) below.
Solitude - Truth In Absence
A Million Light Years Away…
A Barren Abyss - Broken
In Pieces, Flaking Frozen
Stewing, Swirling, Slow Motion Labyrinth Constellation
I Alone Speak With The Wobbling Sun
It Cries To Me As It Licks Stars Clean
But Even Though My Fire Has Grown Cold, Its Embers Burn…
…My Embers Have The Patience Of Piranhas
In My Renaissance, My Tongues Will Be Trees
I Will Vomit Thunder Through Teeth Made Of Mountains
So Many Tides Have Flushed My Age Away
And With It Worm Darkness To Grey