You really have to love the one-man metal project. Sure, plenty of this type offer exercises in hot-mess masturbation, but to answer every Zarach ‘Baal’ Tharagh that tries to bury us in a suffocating pile of utter and way-too-frequent shit, there’s a Ruins of Beverast giving us thoughtfully crafted art with staying power. Brandon Duncan is the one man behind The Sequence of Prime, an example of the latter. Duncan is both artisan and factotum, solely responsible for all aspects of the music and its conceptual architecture, as well as the graphic art that graces its physical manifestation. The quality of the overall package would be enough for relative accolades, even if the music sucked. But it doesn’t, because Duncan’s work displays and benefits from a balance of art and craft, design and execution.
If you’ll pardon a bit of diversion to set up Virion’s premise, the name of the Duncan project points to the random sequence of prime numbers which, when appropriately manipulated, can yield a semblance of order, as in Ulam’s Rose, in which primes appear to spiral outwardly from the number 1. But the prime number spiral is an illusion, a construct of the biased eye bent on finding pattern where there is none. It’s analogous to the question of order in the Universe; that is, whether Time and Space and Life are ultimately and always random, chaotic, and whether the order we think we observe is accidental self-deceit. Several aspects of the Virion picture reflect the conundrum. The cover depicts what looks vaguely like an Ulam Rose, with a silhouetted human figure in the middle feeding into and drawing from it. The lyrics are apocalyptic, painting a picture of a world where, among other frightening prospects, all of Man’s attempts at harnessing and imposing order on Nature cannot prevent a space-borne virus from rendering us impotent, plunging us into chaos and decimating us all. The music itself is conveyed via barely controlled chaos. It’s a familiar theme to metal music, but the extent to which it is executed on so many levels is impressive.
It’s probably safest to call the music a punky thrash, most basically reflected in the guitar tone and riffing style, but Virion spans an array of other sonic ideas, as well. Furious riff-drumbeat interplay, for example, splatters grind aesthetic all over the walls from time to time and in heaved gobs on the barely one-minute, penultimate track, “Ecophagy.” Whereas the riffs cement the many seams of the Virion monster and skillfully programmed drumming greases the joints, it’s Duncan’s swallowed-mike vocals that give the beast power to assail and raze and imbue it with unbound ferocity. Everything is filtered through a dense distortion, and electronic effects choke the air to build a strong sense of industrial toxicity. Time and tempo are willfully abused throughout. All of this again reflecting the difficulty of parsing order from chaos, despite the allure of apparently well-defined figures within it.
And it all revolves around the inevitable end. Duncan realizes that the sandwich-boarded doomsayer pacing and ranting around the bus stop rarely gets the attention necessary to the world’s redemption, probably because even though the apocalyptic harbinger on offer is compelling in theory, the pitch typically sounds more likely channeled through Vince Shlomi than Gawd Hisself. So where doom-is-nigh guy cites a litany of sins that portend The End, Duncan begins with it. “Enlightenment” launches Virion with impossibly tensile, deconstructed chords that barely hold the terror of a man just realizing that Life as we conceive of it is illusion. The dismantled opening sets familiar album structure on its head but allows form to build as the record progresses. Variously colored and textured and always severe, the songs are mostly built around Virion’s conceptual framework, bordering on unhinged but never falling so far apart as to diminish impact.Most of the album’s weight is carried by its midsection where the record’s addiction to sonic flux plays best in the frenetic burn of “Backlit,” the methodical swing-and-chop admonition of “Nuclear Winter,” and the sludgy cyber-grind mania of “Particulate Matter.” “Icosahedron” is a two-minute drum solo that plays like an automaton’s “Bonzo’s Montreux” and closer “Compression” draws the curtains with a build that forsakes the expected release for a fittingly starker close.
Make no mistake; Virion is art for the beholder. Duncan has made the second LP from The Sequence of Prime available on just about every media-sharing site on the net and encourages not only the free downloading of his work, but the further dissemination of it by users. The fully rendered version, with extra goodies, is also available if you want to pay. The man clearly has a sharp artistic vision, the chops to execute it, and the integrity to eschew conventional means in ensuring its delivery to the ears that matter most. It’s also worth noting that Virion was intentionally recorded relatively low to maintain the integrity of the sound, particularly with regard to its dynamic range. “Just turn it up!” he says; one more example of Duncan’s fierce dedication to his art. So, not only does Virion offer a compelling, fully arrayed take on doomsday nihilism, but it does so from the improbable intersection of wholly invested artistry and loyalty to the listener. You should go get this now.