Hypothesis: the difference between good tech-death and bad tech-death lies in the drum tone. If they sound triggered within an inch of their lives or gated/reverbed to the point where the kick drum sounds flatulent, that’s usually a telltale sign that an album isn’t going to be very good. Warmer, more natural drum tones tend to mean that the album as a whole will be of a higher quality. Granted, there are plenty of other areas where a tech-death album can run off the rails, but it’s generally a good sign if the drums actually sound like they’re being played by a human being.
I’ll be honest here –I wasn’t expecting to like Artificial Brain’s sophomore album, Infrared Horizon. I’m not a really fan of guitarist Dan Gargiulo’s other band, Revocation. I didn’t much care for their debut Labyrinth Constellation. For the most part, though, I was pleasantly surprised by this record, which plays things much closer to the Gorguts/Pyrrhon end of the tech-death spectrum than whatever this week’s trend is on Unique Leader.
Probably the easiest comparison point for Infrared Horizon is the last couple of Wormed records, for two reasons: first and foremost, I actually really like Wormed, and secondly, both bands have a serious fixation on outer space. Whereas Wormed play bat-shit crazy tech-death that occasionally sounds like it was made by aliens, there’s a much more terrestrial sound to Artificial Brain. Credit some of that to the drum tone, which has a natural, open room feel to it, but the guitars are decidedly earth-toned as well. Instead of the usual blur of 128th notes that characterizes a lot of tech-death that seems to favor displays of instrumental prowess over actual songwriting, the guitars on this record were recorded in such a way that every note is actually discernable, regardless of how fast the riffs may be. There’s not a ton of saturation in the guitar tone, and there’s a nice balance between clean and slightly dirtier passages. They also make excellent use of tempo changes throughout, the end result of which is more memorable riffs in one song than there frequently are on entire albums by second-tier tech-death bands.
The opening riff to the album’s first track “Floating in Delirium” is a good example in the way that it juxtaposes jazzy open chords with blisteringly fast single-note runs. “Static Shattering” combines dissonance with trebly passages of tremolo-picking that have a distinctly black metal feel. Album highlight “Estranged from Orbit” makes excellent use of slower, moodier passages and features some of the best drum work on the entire record. The thrashy, swinging main riff on ‘Graveyard of Lightless Planets” is another highlight.
As good as the instrumental performances are, though, the album isn’t without its flaws. I know it’s kind of gauche to complain about the vocals on a death metal record, but I really dislike most of the vocal performance on the record. With a few exceptions, the majority of the vocals are of the burbling, ultra-guttural variety – in fact, a lot of them sound like they were recorded underwater. They’re not quite porno-grind level bad, but they don’t sound natural, which is distracting in comparison to the drums and the guitars. They also seem a bit too high in the mix, which certainly doesn’t help.
Still, Infrared Horizon is easily one of the better tech-death albums I’ve heard recently, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the genre. If you’re into bands like Gorguts, Pyrrhon, or even Broken Teeth, you’d do well to give this one a listen.
Infrared Horizon will be available on April 21 via Profound Lore Records.
Clayton T. Michaels (Senior Editor) is a mild-mannered college English teacher by day, and a craft beer drinking, black metal and grindcore loving misanthrope by night. He’s also an award-winning poet and rabid Red Sox fan. Send him your promos at [email protected] You can also find him posting pictures of black metal cassettes and beer can labels on Instagram as @ironhops.