The Porcelain Throne: The Human Abstract
The throne is occupied again! This time around we have Hessian Hunter here with a great article about a band that was one of my introductions into the progressive side of things.
You guys have been great with sending me articles, keep it up, and if you haven’t seen it, here are The Official Porcelain Throne Guidelines for writing for the PT. Let’s keep building up this library of discographies!
Back in the mid-2000’s, at the peak of the “scene” trend, two bands rose above the glut of melodic myspace-famous chuggaholics to create something special and destroy the mold for what was possible in the world of technical, melodic metalcore. These two bands were Ontario’s Protest The Hero and California’s The Human Abstract. Someday I’ll collect enough jizzrags to hand out to my readers so they can handle the masturbatory piece that any article I write about Protest The Hero would inevitably become, but that day has not yet come. Therefore, I’ll focus on the turbulent, all-too-short career of The Human Abstract.
The Human Abstract’s debut record Nocturne broke the “scene” in half. Well, maybe not in half so much as into one very small piece of nerds who like nuanced shredding more than breakdowns and the remaining 98% of scene kids who just want to karate dance to the gang vocal part. Most of the tonal ingredients and influences that are present on Nocturne are on, say, any given The Devil Wears Prada album; both bands use melodic guitar lines above syncopated chugs, china cymbals, and mixed harsh/clean vocals, but the final product from The Human Abstract is much more profound.
What makes The Human Abstract so much better? For one thing, they are a much more traditionally “metal” band than their peers. They were proud and overt about their progressive nature, never apologizing for odd time signatures and cathartic sweep pickings. There were also the charming, tasteful faux-classical modes in which they preferred to write. Above all, in my humble opinion, I think Nathan Ells’s vocals bring this record to the next level. The guy can seriously wail; his harsh and clean vocals feel like legitimate extensions of one another, not two separate modes of expression. Even when his melodies are mighty, his attitude is earnest. There’s not a stroke of machismo to be found, and I don’t miss it a bit.
Nocturne is full of bangers, but the indisputable crown jewel is the closing track “Vela, Together We Await The Storm”. The riffs, shreds, vocals, and structure are all in absolute peak form to create a sprawling and intense 5-minute tornado of a song.
The Human Abstract was put into quite the bind when guitarist and primary songwriter AJ Minette quit the band to pursue a traditional music education. They scooped up both another guitarist (Andrew Tapley) and a young keyboardist (Sean Leonard) to help original guitarist Dean Herrera and drummer Brett Powell with songwriting. With a new cast of writers, this record is VERY different from its predecessor, and as far as I can tell absolutely no one likes this album except me.
Midheaven is a full-on conceptual prog rock record, and metalcore hypershred is really only one element of the sound. Nathan Ells gets a lot of room to stretch out and flex his vocal chops over many different moods and textures. “Breathing Life Into Devices” is my favorite track because it’s the most structurally unique, has the catchiest chorus, and has the gnarliest solo on the whole record. Chaotic ubertech gives way for 90’s alt-rock, which eventually builds into the solo that constitutes Andrew Tapley’s greatest contribution in his too-short stint as a member of THA.
Digital Veil (2011)
The 3rd (and possibly final) album, Digital Veil, seemed to be a direct response to Midheaven and their fans’ general rejection of the new style. They brought back original guitarist AJ while he took a break from school, ditched the keyboard, and replaced Nathan Ells with Travis Richter of From First To Last fame. I have always been ambivalent about this album; I think it features their most mature compositions and even some of their best melodies, but it also feels like their least original effort. Not only is Richter a much more generic and less emotive vocalist than Ells, but all too often, deathcore clichés sabotage otherwise compelling pieces. I dream of an alternate universe where this album was written in a musical climate that didn’t include Oceano or any other band that sounds remotely like them.
I will always respect The Human Abstract for their ambition. I tend to find the greatest joy from artists that push their craft to the limit of what is possible, and THA taught me to expect more from metal musicians, most especially myself. Conversely, they also taught me to be humble. During their tour cycle for Midheaven they slept on my bandmate’s floor after playing for a confused, half-filled room of Dir En Grey fans in Minneapolis. Here they were, absolute gods in my eyes, a “famous” band who were wizards on their instruments in a way I could never hope to be, sleeping on hardwood floors and living off Goldfish cracker dinners.
That was the moment I realized that “making it” just doesn’t really happen anymore, and there’s no point in performing outsider art if you are seeking money or fame. Ever since then, my attitude about creating music has been to simply do what I love, without compromise, and hope it touches someone out there the way The Human Abstract touched me. They’ve quietly slipped off the map in the past few years, and given the disjointed nature of their entire career I’m not holding out hope they’ll ever make a proper “comeback”. Sleep well, fair princes, and may the Great Gleaming Toilet in the sky bless you and keep you, forever and ever. Amen.
Thanks to Hessian Hunter for this fine addition (even though I disagree with the Digital Veil critique)!