[Artwork by a fellow called Adam Burke]
“Wait, this is black metal! I’m eating black metal!” ~ Tom Colicchio
There’s a thing that happens in extremely sophisticated restaurants and amidst scheming competitive cooking shows where chefs make dishes that look like one thing and end up tasting like something… fairly contrasting to what you might expect. A chicken liver parfait disguised as a perfect pear, chocolate cheeseboards, crab doughnuts, watermelon carpaccio, deconstructed lasagna, etc. etc. etc. In many cases, it works because most of our palates become very stubbornly used to routine, even more so when paired with the way our eyeballs consume moments beforehand, so it’s quite fun to throw the ol’ brain a total curveball now and again.
“Where could he be going with this,” asked the extremely perceptive and aggressively attractive reader.
That’s right, New York, New York’s Artificial Brain knows how to bake a cake that looks exactly like a cheeseburger. That’s it. That’s the review.
However, in the interest of saving Mr. Colicchio from going completely off the rails and smashing the entire kitchen for want of further clarification, let’s examine that actual* quote from him in the intro.
( * what, it could happen.)
Hey, great news! Artificial Brain album number three—the closing chapter in a trilogy that maps the rise and fall of robots / cyborgs that very deservedly take over the earth, and the last album to feature the impossibly vulgar croaks of vocalist Will “Did You Just Call Me The Fresh Prince? Wow, I’ve Never Heard That One Before” Smith—continues to paint the corners with that, ahem, atonal tremolo guitar work that sharpens the corners with just enough of a purposely jagged yet highly sophisticated air to win the avant-garde tag. This record does, however, find an even deeper level of finesse, and it introduces a few new tricks to make it a warmer and even more comfortably melancholy companion compared to chapters one and two.
I think Artificial Brain stumbled a touch with album numero two-o. Not at all to the extent that I would haul the dreaded “sophomore slump” out of the holster, and it’s certainly not like they suddenly forgot how to play their instruments, but Infrared Horizon felt like a single step back in the songwriting department compared to the rather impressive bar set by the gripping debut. Comparatively, Artificial Brain more than just resets the course, it very well might challenge Labyrinth Constellation for the crown, given a bit more time. The record boasts a fantastic flow, myriad fabrics and tempers, wonderfully apposite guest-spots, complex whatthefuckery without ever crossing into anything that’s outright overwhelming, and it’s all accomplished in a winningly tidy 46 minutes. What really pushes it to the next level and gives it that necessary infectiousness, though, is the return of the moodiness that gets maximized to an even greater effect in 2022. If I had to pin a modern band as an analogy / possible influence on this record, I would opt for fellow New York City, New Yorkers Vaura, who also have a terrifically unique way of weaving moody post-punk textures into a modern black metal tapestry. Or, from a completely different angle, think of a world where Ihsahn kicked off a successful solo career after spending years wowing people as a member of the magnificently epic Aeternus instead of Emperor.
And therein lies the rub in terms of being confused about which box we’re supposed to tuck Artificial Brain into. Which is, in fact, very much by design, as these fellows are, as it happens, the very same cyborgs they thread into their storylines, and they wish to confuse humans in an effort to lower our defenses, thereby making coup offenses all the more easy. Or, you know, they just like the idea of not being easily definable. They are dessert cheeseburgers. Artificial Brain is a big dessert cheeseburger that’s served at a death metal-themed food truck that could cause hungry goblins to be all, “Hey, this is awesome, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it served up at that food truck across the way, A Blintz in the Northern Sky.”
IT’S JUST A NEAT SOUNDING, WEIRD ALBUM, OKAY? Try this on for size:
A song like “Celestial Cyst” trots out all the things we hope to hear from Artificial Brain at this point: oodles of piranha fretwork, intensely heavy drumming, wandering and superbly frolicsome bass, and vocals so low and grating you might find yourself humped by a humpback whale upon playing the record at sea. But you also hear that extra sense of tuneful gloom in the corners, even more so than the debut, and it pairs particularly well with the über buoyant bass. Plus, you get the added bonus of Mike Browning (Nocturnus AD, ex-Nocturnus, ex-Morbid Angel) on guest vocals just after the halfway point to push the joy right over the edge. Really, that’s pretty much this record’s overall method of operation: hit ‘em with the things you know they love, dress the corners with even more poignant embroidery, and throw in a bunch of really fun surprises to slam the deal home. We have guest vocalist Luc Lemay (Gorguts) helping to power “Insects and Android Eyes,” mix / masterer Colin Marston’s freaky-deaky Warr guitar noodling in “A Lofty Grave,” interesting bits of shortwave radio noise (à la The Conet Project) in “Cryogenic Dreamworld,” and an even stronger presence of atmospheric keys that further underscore that gloomy Robert Smith face that occasionally drifts in from errant space fissures.
You were hoping for a straightforward beatdown, right? I know you, you snuggly lil rascals. Well, “Parasite Signal” has you covered (and walloped with a big bag of extra Space Shuttle parts. Wait, why do we have all these extra Space Shuttle parts. That seems dangerous):
What else remains to be mentioned if we’ve already covered Tom Colicchio, dessert cheeseburgers, humpback whales, piranhas, food trucks, and Robert Smith’s face floating like Nagilum in a lost Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. Is a record like Artificial Brain right for you? Absolutely positively unequivocally and categorically maybe, depending almost entirely on how much you enjoy having boundaries shattered inside the already decidedly progressive realm of avant-garde death / black metal. This record is wonderfully crackers, like walking out to your car and suddenly realizing a bobcat is sitting on the hood. It’s sophisticated, batty, stupid heavy, bonkers fast, warmly despondent, and almost scarily irresistible. Yes, it’s very sad to say goodbye to the ludicrously low and barbaric bellow of Will Smith moving forward, but with gremlins as loopy as the rest of this crew piloting the ship, the likelihood that Artificial Brain will continue to smash through into new and interesting realms far into the future seems intensely likely. I’m guessing more than just a few of us can’t wait to see where the ride takes us next. In the meantime, however, please enjoy Artificial Brain to the point of detonation.
Great review of a killer album.
This line is a gem.– “This record is wonderfully crackers, like walking out to your car and suddenly realizing a bobcat is sitting on the hood.”