Artificial Brain - Artificial Brain (Profound Lore)

Science Fiction has always lent itself to metal bands on the more progressive side — be it with the nuclear machine-soldiers of Voivod, the cosmic ponderings of late-period Death, or the indulgence in pulp by osdm revivalists like Blood Incantation. Artificial Brain’s newest release further integrates these profound visions by wrapping them in filthy, technical death metal that truly engages the imagination, as vocalist Will Smith vomits forth tales of the unexpected.
Musically, this is their most varied record to date, yet this does not lead to the meandering heard in the closing tracks of Labyrinth Constellation. Instead, the band widens their sonic palette to improve upon their multidimensional worldbuilding, but ultimately keep the song lengths comparatively trim. The almost gothic synth overtones of “Cryogenic Dreamworld” layer a sense of eerie serenity onto one of the most melodically powerful moments on the album, evoking the band’s New York contemporaries Toby Driver, Krallice (as of this year), and the brothers Skarstad. Elsewhere, the keening saxophone in the conclusion of “Tome of the Exiled Engineer” sprinkles more malevolence atop Will’s mad scientist ramblings, and a guest Warr guitar solo from Colin Marston elevates “A Lofty Grave” even higher into the stratosphere. These additional elements never feel shoehorned or unnecessary as many features do – the songs are neither built solely to showcase these moments, nor would they benefit from their removal. Outside these timbral excursions, the band has plenty of rhythmic flair. The waltzing that underpins Marston’s solo, and its more aggressive permutation in “Parasite Signal”, or the acrobatic basswork in “Celestial Cyst”, all possess a surprising amount of elegance for such a brutal album. And while there is a familiar tempo and drive to most of the songs, the sludgier impetus of “Embalmed in Magma” enforces a truly claustrophobic feel, while the ambient respite of “Cryogenic Dreamworld” gives the listener some room to breathe, matching the song’s themes of temporary escape. A variety of drum textures and styles also mean that the rhythm never feels like it’s on autopilot. 
This wouldn’t be an Artificial Brain album without their most potent weapon: melancholy. The band has perfected the art of injecting a truly sorrowful and forlorn melody into their writing. These blackened moods, first explored in tracks like “Hormone’s Echo” on their debut, and subsequently wallowed in on their forlorn sophomore release, make Artificial Brain much more memorable than the vast majority of death metal bands, whose most nuanced emotion seems still to be primal rage. There is a kind of whiplash in Artificial Brain’s more reflective moments, as if they are the eye of the storm; snapshots of an existential dread which drives the band’s grief-stricken chaos. When it emerges in the more laidback periods of “Celestial Cyst”, it gives the song more depth, the hatred of its narrative explained and tempered. As “Tome of the Exiled Engineer” climaxes, it introduces this creeping emptiness with reverb-laden guitars and synths, the additional timbral elements working together with their powerful melodies to conjure a lonely galactic vista.
Eschewing the primitive OSDM leanings of other starry-eyed acts, Artificial Brain draw more from Gorguts through their use of mind-melting dissonance and more modern techniques. However, their penchant for an emotive melody means that they’re not pigeonholed into this tendency of the subgenre either; the two tonal qualities are used in balance to enhance one another, the dissonance feeling more brutal and relentless precisely because it does relent, and the melody feeling all the more poignant and soul-stirring because it emerges from this chaos.
The production in Artificial Brain is rougher than their earlier albums, giving the music a corroded, filthy vibe that avoids the pristine sonic tropes of technical death metal bands like Obscura or Archspire, instead being reminiscent of fellow New Yorkers Pyrrhon. Avoiding such sanitised production helps the album maintain so much character, and Marston’s work (as usual) strikes that excellent balance between ambience and clarity. Combined with the precision and mechanistic rhythm of the guitars, it feels almost as if this is music made by machines in the process of decay and breakdown, still committing to their task but encrusted in moss and leaking; a feeling that synergises with the record’s themes of decay and its gorgeous cover art.
Furthering the band’s unity of vision, Will’s lyrics excellently create fitting scenes and snapshots, his gurgled exultations working with the riffs to build vivid vignettes. There are tales of societal collapse, tales of nature reclaiming life, tales of guilt, all told through the eyes of a callous and nihilistic narrator who lives in isolation in a “bunker above the sky”. Science-fiction as a genre excels in creating a macroscopic representation of familiar fears, often through the utilisation of advanced, near-magical technology, and Will uses this to address the concerns of our generation, one which ponders on lost futures. Lead single “Celestial Cyst” conveys both anger and miserable regret, touching on our post-industrial zeitgeist with lyrics painting an image of a people “grown now having never known the world that's gone”, while the narrator “manipulates” them “on a whim” from above – a parody, perhaps, of the space-obsessed billionaires who meddle in politics today… Mike Browning’s featured vocals on this track also inject a sneering tone into the proclamations of the record’s capricious narrator, who enacts worldwide violence out of tedium and arrogance. “Cryogenic Dreamworld” invokes the disorienting psychedelia of Philip K. Dick, reality melting away as the narrator envelops himself in a pleasant stasis, eventually becoming “bored of dreams” as he tries and fails to escape his empty fate.
There are also Romantic themes and images which, while often reserved for folk and atmospheric black metal, are utilised here in a more aggressive, almost accusatory framework, alongside hard sci-fi embellishments. Smith’s musings invoke Shelley; “insects” nest in a “giant exoskull” from an annihilated machine, and by the conclusion of the album, the war-torn and forlorn planet we observe is soon to be annihilated by a sun that is now “hostile”, as the narrator prepares to “rinse his hands” of a planet he saw only as a “project”, realising that while he has played God, he too is but “a man”. This is a further development on the more desolate existentialism of Infrared Horizon, its illustrations of purposeless, synthetic life floating in an empty void presenting a more minimal and intimate canvass, the music following suite both for better and worse. Artificial Brain, on the other hand, is vital, heaving, tumultuous – colossal riffs like those of “Glitch Cannon” serve the band’s monolithic scope well, conjuring images of titanic war machines and rumbling planets.
While largely a success, Artificial Brain’s experimental quality does mean that it feels inconsistent at times; while the non-linear lyrical storytelling does a good job of mitigating this, there is still a sense of imbalance. As with any band pushing new ideas, integrating these within a wider whole is a huge task, and the less experimental tracks on the album, especially those driving the first 5 minutes, sometimes feel a little undercooked in comparison to what follows them, even if it makes sense for this less inventive material to serve as an introduction to the record.
A lot like Wormrot’s Hiss, Artificial Brain is a career peak, but as the last with their visionary original vocalist, it leaves us asking where Artificial Brain will go from here. What we can be certain of, however, is that this album has pushed the ideological fusion of science-fiction and death metal to exceptional new heights, being richly imaginative and conceptual without losing its meteoric energy.