To a certain subset of metal fans, Dodecahedron’s two albums were among the most original, daring, and truly adventurous works of extreme metal in recent years. Dissonant black metal met electronics, industrial, a progressive, unpredictable compositional approach, and obvious individual talents to form a brand of metal not quite like any other. When tragedy struck in 2019 with the death of original vocalist Michiel Eikenaar to cancer, their future seemed uncertain. They were initially carrying on with William van der Voort behind the mic but last year decided to end their run.
Whatever followed would need to either set itself apart stylistically or be able to stand up to the almost lofty standards of what came before. Ex-Dodec bandmates Michel Nienhuis and Joris Bonis seem very much to understand that with Autarkh, a band they consider a direct continuation of Dodecahedron. Debut Form In Motion is different enough to make up for the fact that overall it isn’t quite as compelling as its predecessors. Thankfully, it’s still very compelling.
While nothing on Form In Motion is exactly conventional, and there are certainly still some progressive tendencies, the new songs also aren’t labyrinthine mazes. Most tracks consist of a few distinct sections with dynamics being greatly boosted by performances and electronic variations. The riffs range from the expected dissonant black metal and chunkier heft to big Meshuggah-y lines (minus most rhythmic weirdness or djenty right-handed action). The vocals vary greatly from a biting scream-growl to near-singing; think the cleaner vocals of mid-period Gojira. The likely (very) misleading Meshuggah connections could even be stretched to include the occasional “robot spokal” part or passages of… growl rapping (?) in “Lost To Sight.” (Don’t get the wrong idea; this album doesn’t really sound like Meshuggah.)
Compositions and performances are obviously hugely important things, but perhaps the biggest area in which Autarkh sets itself apart is through the electronics. Based solely on the number of sounds within, you could make a strong argument that Form In Motion isn’t so much an electronic-tinged metal album as a metal-tinged electronic album, with the those influences coming largely from 90s IDM and glitch. Three out of four band members are credited with programming, beat design, and/or sound design, after all. This record is packed to the robotic gills with heavy beats, clangs, clanks, little flickers, taps, twills, and twips of 500 different varieties.
The electronics are most often used to enhance the percussive depth of the record, with layers of synthesized thumps filling the role of traditional metal sounds like double kick drums. The result is an incredibly dense and delightfully relentless ‒ if meticulously constructed ‒ racket. One particular effect even sounds like an industrialized recording of finger snaps. Everything manages to enhance the overt catchiness of the record while also making it that much more alien and destructive sounding, all while never really giving into danceability; you’ll find no oooonce-oooonce here, merely a malevolent AI taking over the Warp Records catalog. (It’s probably no coincidence that their name is eerily similar to that of a certain Warp group.)
Every tune admittedly has some riffs and ideas that blend into the whole of the album, but every tune also has at least a couple sections that should hook the listener right into this mechanical maelstrom. Between riff patterns like the descending lines in “Clouded Aura” and the way most songs burst into existence with little fanfare, the album is often downright mean. Then there’s weirdo moments like the solo in “Cyclic Terror” (Is it a guitar? Is it a synth? Who cares!), which helps to connect a creepy, softer passage to some of the most haggard and tortured vocals on the record. “Lost To Sight” might have the wonky, twitchy vocals, but later sections take on some expanse with sustained guitars and synth textures—the electronics aren’t only used for percussion.
Overall, the record is as close to the most industrialized DHG material as it is to Dodecahedron, which still doesn’t tell the full story, and which also might not be what some fans were wanting or expecting. Counterpoint: because Form In Motion isn’t quite as abstract as Dodecahedron, it might end up appealing to a bigger crowd, even if some of that crowd is different. And that’s okay! The most important thing is that Autarkh managed to continue parts of the Dodecahedron sound while venturing into a new, still wildly cool and largely unique direction. Heck of an opening statement that isn’t necessarily an opening statement.