The Porcelain Throne: Mnemic
“When we started the band, we where [sic] influenced by 3 great artists, Meshuggah, Fear Factory & Strapping Young Lad (plus everything else Devin touched). We had a common artistic vision for the sound and look and a common goal when composing. We where [sic] all able to communicate musically on the same level, as we all contributed with our personal signature to the greater vision. . .
“Fact is, people and situations change, and going through multiple line-up changes, not being able to generate an income from music and struggling to survive, so did the vision change.” – Mircea Gabriel Eftemie
When we talk about music artists, we tend to think about their place in history. How much of an impact did they make, or are they making? Are they pushing listeners’ boundaries? Did they carve a path through genre, providing a springboard for future artists to evolve? Or were they themselves influenced by those types of artists, taking the groundwork laid by more experimental musicians and refining it, shaping it into something new, whether more palatable and accessible or more angular and offputting?
Most times artists are both of these things. Unless they are entirely derivative, typically artists both emulate their influences and create a unique take on their chosen genre by virtue of being distinctive and individual people (or groups). Even pioneering bands learn from and emulate (to varying degrees) their predecessors. In the above quote, taken from Mnemic’s breakup announcement in 2014, Mircea Gabriel Eftemie—one of Mnemic’s founders and longtime guitar player—explicitly acknowledges their influences. It is clear, listening to Mnemic’s earliest material, that all these influences are worn on their sleeve. And yet, in the same category as what the Toilet’s HessianHunter described as ‘proto-djent‘ (even managing to mention several of Mnemic’s listed influences), Mnemic turned them into something new and interesting, a sound uniquely their own. Of course, like most bands, their early material reflected more obviously their influences, gradually evolving into a distinctive sound, as we will see as we explore their musical trajectory. And this ‘Mnemic’ sound, uniquely their own and yet influential in the development of modern progressive metal and djent, is entirely deserving of porcelain enthronement.
Though undergoing stylistic and lineup changes across their all-too-short career, Mnemic is still one of my favourite bands of all time. I discovered them at a very formative age—I was about 17 when I first heard their song “Liquid“, and it hit all the right buttons for me. I’d recently picked up Meshuggah’s I and Catch 33 albums, a massive challenge to my understanding of ‘music’ at the time, while my high school musical tastes were dominated by the likes of Dream Theater and Killswitch Engage. Mnemic managed, for me, to take all of my influences—the heaviness of Meshuggah, the odd-time meters of Dream Theater, and the good-cop/bad-cop vocals and energy of Killswitch Engage—and turn them into something beyond the sum of their parts.
PART 1: Industrial Influences
Mnemic’s first back-to-back outputs, Mechanical Spin Phenomena (2003) and The Audio Injected Soul (2004), make no attempts to hide their influences. Taking the polymetric grooves of Meshuggah (heard particularly on the above track’s 5/4 over 4/4) and smashing them headlong with the more melodic and industrial sensibilities of Fear Factory and Strapping Young Lad, these albums fit perfectly into the emerging metal sound of the early 2000s. And yet, though Mnemic had not yet refined their own unique sound, these albums are massively ahead of their time. For example, Periphery wouldn’t release Periphery until 2010; Tesseract‘s One was in 2011; even proto-djent masters Sikth released their debut full-length The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait for Something Wild in 2003, the same year as Mnemic’s debut. These early Mnemic albums are masterpieces of the early 2000s proto-djent, the mash of the industrial, metal, and melodic influences of the ’90s, yet sonically distinct from the recently deceased nu-metal as it began its metamorphosis into post-grunge and butt rock.
One of the defining aspects of Mnemic’s early sound is the throat-splitting vocal work of Michael Bøgballe, Mnemic’s first vocalist. Rather than emulate some of the more full-bodied screams prevalent in metal to this day, Bøgballe’s screams felt more primal; more raw. His vocal delivery moved effortlessly between melodic, spoken word, and screamed vocals, in a distinctive timbre that gave Mnemic the edge above some of its similar, yet more forgettable, contemporaries. While it was clear this was the direction metal would be moving (In Flames’ Reroute to Remain had been released one year earlier), Mnemic’s early mastery of this emerging style solidified them as pioneers of the then-emerging ‘modern metal’ genre.
PART 2: Ch- ch- ch- changes
Mnemic’s third release signaled a shift for the band. Stylistically, 2007s Passenger marked a change from the cold, metallic, hyper-tight production of the first two albums, instead opting for a thicker, heavier, almost organic sound. The drums, instead of relying on early 2000s click-y triggers, sound much more natural, while the guitars and bass fill out the lower end of the sonic spectrum, allowing for thicker pads and keyboards to enhance the overall texture of the songs. While still managing to sound ‘industrial’ (the album was produced by former Fear Factory bassist Christian Olde Wolbers after all), the industrial influences moved from hyper-tight lockstepped guitar & bass drum riffs spliced together to form songs, to an overall aural palate that felt ‘industrial’, much like the difference between hearing a single hammer strike tongs versus being in the centre of a busy factory. The songwriting on Passenger drastically improved from the previous two efforts, a maturing of the ideas the first two albums explored.
However, the most notable change on Passenger was the most dreaded of all linuep changes: new vocalist. Bøgballe departed the band in 2005, to be eventually replaced by Guillaume Bideau. This, for me, is where the album suffers the most. While Bideau is assuredly a capable vocalist, his vocal work on this album feels unfocused—like the band was clear they wanted to make a stylistic shift both in the instrumentals as well as the vocals, but were unsure of how they wanted the vocals to end up. Compared with the absolutely stellar vocal work of Bøgballe, Bideau felt like a step down. His screams here lack the raw aggression present in the last two albums, often feeling more like aggressive yelling, which at times strays into ‘whiny’ territory. While now I deeply enjoy this album—indeed I think it has some of their strongest material—at the time, the stylistic shift combined with the weaker vocals was too much for me, and I thought that without their original vocalist, Mnemic would never be as good.
Mere fool me.
PART 3: The Golden Era
In 2010, Mnemic released their magnum opus, Sons of the System, proving the old maxim “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” to be absolutely true. Sons of the System took everything Passenger tried to do in terms of stylistic shifts and perfected it. Bideau’s vocals on this album are at least as strong—and in some cases, stronger—than anything Bøgballe had done with the band. The sonic experimentation of Passenger is refined and perfected on Sons, retaining all their previous industrial influence and more organic, thicker sound, while honing in even further on quality songwriting, allowing room for more electronic influences to permeate the album. Here Mnemic’s trajectory has reached its zenith; its influences are no longer at the forefront of its songs, but rather a blended part of a distinctive, new sound all their own. Of course, their stylistic hallmarks are all still there: alternating clean and screamed vocals, downtuned guitars, industrial atmosphere. But somehow, instead of being a patchwork quilt of all these sounds, Sons of the System is a distilled offering that comes across entirely unique and musically coherent. Here is the sound Mnemic had been working towards from the beginning of their careers, a mature release worthy in and of itself of being raised on the porcelain throne.
PART 4: They’ve Been Them
Despite the strength of Sons of the System, Mnemic’s next—and final—release, Mnemesis seemed a step backward. In 2011, just one year after the release of Sons of the System, guitarist Rune Stigart, bassist Tomas Koefoed, and drummer Brian Rasmussen left the band, leaving Eftemie as the sole remaining founding member. Of course, these members were replaced, but I’ve ruminated before on how departing members affect the band, and I feel Mnemic is no exception. Mnemesis feels like a shadow of what Sons of the System achieved. If Passenger was rough, if experimental and endearing, Mnemesis is smooth and polished—but not in a good way. Rather than continuing on the trajectory that created their greatest material, Mnemic feels disheartened on this album, dialing their now-established sound in to a degree that, while it does offer quality songs, feels less energetic and enjoyable than their previous offerings.
This isn’t to say, of course, that Mnemesis is devoid of good music. To the contrary, it’s an excellent album with well-crafted songs, as well as some continued experimentation. It’s more that the album feels too safe, too subdued after the colossal offering that was Sons of the System. And reading Eftemie’s breakup announcement, it feels like the mood of the band was tired; tired of trying to make it in an industry where they weren’t make any money; tired of losing band members; tired of continuing on in a genre they helped create but no longer seemed to enjoy. To put it in Eftemie’s own words:
“I am not interested in sparkling clean productions and Djenty polyrhythmic one-stringed riffing, flavored with melodic choruses. I have written this type of music for over a decade, and to put it simply, I am sick and tired of it. To be completely honest I really dislike the Djent genre, because no matter how extremely talented these musicians and bands are, no one can write a good song, and they all sound the same – at least to me. I am also pretty sure we have regressed as a band (or musicians), if some do consider us part of the Djent genre?”
In hindsight, I think his own analysis of djent and Mnemic’s place within it is unfair. While Mnemic certainly inspired djent, it’s hard to listen to “Diesel Uturus” (for example) and find a ton in common with what djent would become. But it’s understandable that he would feel, after years in the music industry, like he was ready to move on from a genre and style he’d grown tired of. And sometimes the best art leaves you wanting more, rather than sticking around long enough to become a sad parody of itself (*cough*).
Part 5: Epilogue
And so Mnemic is no more. A few of their members went off to do some other projects (Blood Eagle, Scamp), but mostly they quietly went about their own lives, leaving Mnemic alone. And while I’m torn—I’d love to see a reunion of the Sons of the System or The Audio Injected Soul lineups but I’m also thankful they didn’t continue on creating continually more and more mediocre music just for the sake of it—I’m still content to continue listening to the 5 albums Mnemic did create, to enjoy each of them for their own merits, and let them leave Mnemic where it lies. And with that, I heartfully submit Mnemic to the hallowed halls of the Porcelain Throne.