Artificial Brain’s Labyrinth Constellation Threatens to Obsolete Human Intelligence
There’s a particular flavor of metal that has, until recently, largely resided outside the US. It’s a two-part concoction, built on spitting abrasion and counterbalanced with depraved, volatile senses of harmony and melody. The resulting product is raw, manipulative chaos that threaten to throw us off-track at every possible turn. It’s post-death metal, if you will. Over the last few years, Colin Marston has been helping introduce this post-apocalyptic character via production as well as composition, and there’s now oodles of US-based bands cropping up that harness those desolate tonalities and dissonances made “famous” by the likes of Deathspell Omega and Ulcerate. New York’s Artificial Brain must be possessed by some kindred spirits, because Labyrinth Constellation, their debut take on space-themed blackened death, showcases impressive artistic maturity and vivid evocative power.
Though Marston’s production is distinctive, it serves to facilitate albums rather than control them. The most instantly noticeable quality of Labyrinth Constellation is its evocative power, inspiring vivid images and adjectives alike. This means that the band’s space themes aren’t lost in gimmickry à la Rings of Saturn; Artificial Brain are fully aware that there’s more to “space” than randomness, dissonance, and abrupt rhythmic shifts. Timbres feel dense and aqueous; Dan Gargiulo’s riffs in “Wired Opposites” sound like they’re crafted from rotting wood once cultivated in an interstellar arboretum. There’s a current of organic energy that drives this album forward, despite the often-mechanical quality of Will Smith’s discharge and Keith Abrami’s savage drum assault. It’s a kind of swirling, mesmeric force, exemplified in tracks like “Orbital Gait,” whose recursive ellipses seem to fling us out of our time and space and through a portal to dimension 5612. This leads to the development of fuzzy but widely diverse atmospheres, resplendent with contrasting emotional premises.
This synergy between Labyrinth Constellation’s conceptual and musical themes gives the songs a sense of maturity that compliments the musicians’ ear for conciseness. Though there are few traditional verse-chorus structures, the band excel at pacing the songs and timing riffs properly for the greatest impact. The admittedly frequent blast beats still usually manage to provide an intriguing textural benefit. Labyrinth Constellation’s nuclear aggression is tempered with mesmeric, trichome-dense contemplation, paying careful attention to the proportions of heaviness (“Moon Funeral”). Many death metal debuts are prone to stagnation, but Artificial Brain’s songwriting is kinetically-minded, stuttering and slithering across time signatures when necessary (“Absoring Black Ignition”). The album is also excellent at incorporating themes and motifs from disparate corners of modern metal as well as from older influences. Sure, the album is pretty polished on the surface, but under the gloss lays a foundation of atavistic euphoria, galvanizing the tracks with Demilich-esque gurgles and Darkthrone-caliber bleakness alongside rapid Wormed-style spasms. Here is where Marston’s production speaks loudest: the sounds are far too primal to sound digital, but never careen too deeply into the unapproachably raw territory that can ruin an album’s enjoyability.
Though despite its sonic variance and meticulous songwriting, Labyrinth Constellation doesn’t entirely fulfill its name. A constellation is a gestalt, a composite, greater than the sum of its individual stars; Labyrinth Constellation, were it a true constellation, would be pretty difficult to recognize as a single amalgamated entity. It’s an album that is often more enjoyable to consume in small doses than it is to absorb the (sometimes exhausting) album in one sitting. Nevertheless, it’s scarily possible to do just that; it’s easy to ingest track after track like so many aural potato chips. It may not impress a centralized concept on listeners, but like other tech-death classics – Planetary Duality and Epitaph come to mind – each song is so singularly enjoyable that it’s no longer relevant. Labyrinth Constellation is about as good as debuts get, demonstrating that there’s still room for innovation in the spaces around death metal.