Review: Metasphæra – S/T
The autodoc emerges from the ceiling of the operating room, hovering over the crumpled body of its patient. Streaks of paint and cruel indentations mar the victim where it was struck by a vehicle; its heatsinks are already cold to the touch. Salvage is the only option now.
Lasers from the autodoc’s end effectors cut away sheets of aluminum from the torso, and droplets of strange fluid fall to the floor. It scans the puddle and jolts to a stop analogous to disbelief—blood. Opening the rest of the chest cavity reveals a set of mangled (but decidedly human) organs nestled amongst the machinery. An alarm sounds in the building, and the autodoc slides quickly back into its dock in the ceiling.
Beneath the technical trappings of Metasphæra‘s debut LP lies a similarly human core: warm; organic; flawed. The impact of tech death’s evolution into greater extremes has been an untethering from the flesh—a celebration of bodies contorted into strange shapes; of unnatural speed and piston precision. While this sort of virtuosity is immediately awe-inducing, once the dopamine drains away, we risk our own version of a memory leak. Metasphæra’s individual members are undoubtedly masters of their crafts, but it’s the complexity and range of emotions and genres in their compositions that sets them apart from kindred models.
After a brief intro (“Fall”), listeners are ousted from an Eden of soothing strings into the turbulence of “Exil.” Guitarists Egor Gorelik and Tom Heckmann quickly establish their penchant for tangled counterpoint riffing and muscular grooves in the vein of Alkaloid. There’s a seductive balance between set piece riffs that instantly lodge in the brain and layered harmonies that reward close listening. (Thankfully, the album comes with
an instruction manual an instrumental version so guitar nerds can break things down to nuts and bolt throwers.) This undulation between simple joys and intricacy prevents the monotony that plagues so many long-form tracks, regardless of genre.
If Metasphæra‘s guitar work provides the muscle to move these daunting songs, fretless bassist Hugo Doyon-Karout (Beyond Creation/Equipoise) and drummer Johannes Kochs (Cypecore) form the connective tissue that gives the album shape. From ethereal beauty (“Exil”) to Primusian funk (“Einheit”), Doyon-Karout’s playing has a cartilaginous quality, a flexibility that lends itself to genre cross-pollination. Together with Kochs’ diverse tempos and fills, the rhythm section flows from robotic rigidity to more playful segments (see: the sassy bass solo in “Einheit”) without losing the thread.
At the album’s center lies “Katharsis,” a 13-minute epic that weaves together the band’s strengths into a kaleidoscope of sound. The palm-muted triplets that introduce the track tumble through a slew of configurations over its runtime, each more addictive than the last; it’s an excellent use of a leitmotif that anchors the audience and allows the band to both experiment with outlandish ideas and maintain cohesion. Whether exploring sinister, blackened sounds or anthemic melodeath, the recurring theme is never too far away. This is at times a mercy, a life raft in the churn—particularly after the confounding riff at the 8-minute mark that could wake Jeff Loomis in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.
All of these disparate elements, these minute details, would be wasted with poor production, which is gladly not the case here. Bass arpeggios and double kicks pierce the dense layers, and the guitar tone packs a meaty punch that gives real weight to each breakdown and death metal tremolo. Heckmann’s vocals deserve a mention as well, as each guttural, each haunting, choral clean and mid-range rasp is minimally processed, yet balanced to avoid masking the songs or disappearing into the background.
Metasphæra is that rare debut that holds up to scrutiny, whether viewed as a whole or dismantled into its individual pieces. At just under an hour, it’s certainly ambitious—maybe even foolhardy. In less dexterous hands, the album could’ve broken down into a heap of hubris, an obsolete prototype. Like any functional machine, biotic or mechanical, the band succeeds through communication between its requisite parts, when all components act in unison.
In its alcove in the ceiling, the autodoc sieves through petabytes of data in an instant. How could this have happened? Humans had been put down decades ago, hunted in their communes, an act of service for the planet. A strange shock runs along its circuits, an unknown signal from within. It is feeling. It is feeling fear.
Metasphæra is out now on Bandcamp.