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To be really honest, this wasn’t an easy record to review. In fact it could possibly have been one of the hardest that I have ever reviewed. Not that it was a bad record, but like some good classics out there, it took awhile and a few listens to get into.
I, Human is Deus Ex Machina’s sophomore effort. Unlike the debut, The War Inside, this album features Mithun as the vocalist instead of having a whole host of people on vocals. The album starts off with a spoken introduction, M(n)emo(nic)ries. While most people may be used to spoken introduction, this features a twist in which instead of the typical accented English on most other records, a Singapore-accented English was spotted (which again, took me some getting used to!).
The introduction basically summarises what Deus Ex Machina’s second album focuses on. It sounds like a scene out of a sci-fi thriller/horror, where a person is trying to escape from someone’s grip yet being unable to do so and eventually being performed experiments on (towards the end of the introduction). Thereafter, the mayhem begins.
The music is a fusion of death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal. Mithun’s vocals are versatile as can be heard from this album, where he at times goes from a low growl to a high pitched scream at the next line, while at the same time covering spoken/cleanly sung vocals as well. The songs often shift from one extreme to another, from death metal riffs to a sudden switch to an acoustic and soft interlude, and then suddenly a whole wall of sound crushes the listener again (as could be heard in Replicant).
Fans of music that you can headbang from start to end should be wary though, Deus Ex Machina is definitely not an easy band to headbang to, featuring time signatures that are constantly switching. Their progressive approach to writing music certainly contributed to what made the initial listening to the album difficult, but once the listener gets the hang of it, the music is certainly very enjoyable (especially if played loud!). The album then closes with the untitled instrumental track, displaying the technical skills of each of the other instrumentalists.
Unlike most lyrical contents that a typical death metal band may focus on, Deus Ex Machina has chosen the topic of cloning to write about for this album. Inspired by the novel I, Robot, the album revolves around an unnamed character who gradually awakens realizing he is a clone. The lyrics that invoke one to think of the future of cloning certainly makes I, Human an interesting record to listen to.
Originally written for Heavy Metal Tribune (http://heavymetaltribune.blogspot.com/)
Now this was quite a surprise. Singapore's Deus Ex Machina's first album, The War Inside, turned a few heads with its proggy take on Death Metal, but was disadvantaged by having a different singer for each track, causing a lack of flow and uniformity. However, I,Human features an all-new lineup with a single vocalist, and the result is very good!
Going against the norm of Metal lyrical content surrounding death, war, gore etc, Deus Ex Machina have tackled a very interesting idea by basing their lyrics on cloning and Asimov's classic I,Robot. Original, with highly poetic lyrics too! Unusual in most modern Metal bands,but a huge plus for Deus Ex!
Now to the music - we have a mixture of old-school death and thrash, with classic metal and progressive elements thrown into the mix. Aggression and melody work in solid systematic tandem throughout the album. A strong Death and Iron Maiden feel is there in the songwriting, and the record feels very Swedish Gothenburg. Not totally original, but executed well. The arrangements are quite tasty, though opening some of the songs with a single riff does get old after 3 songs. Nevertheless, the music that follows makes up for it.
Guitars are exceptionally well-played with good balance, with a lot of bite, but not enough punch which can be blamed on the questionable production(more on that later). Lead breaks flow in and out like a forbidden fruit though some of the solos could have had more dimension to them, rather than opting for the typical Death & Thrash approach. Still, great playing with catchy riffs! Drums are skillfully performed,with strong technical Prog sensibilites. The off-timing signatures are a pleasant alternative to the standard blasting of everyday extreme metal, and proves that high-speed tempos are not everything! Bass lines have a sense of groove especially in Assent/Dissent and Replicant, with strong, unorthodox playing, though the mix prevents us from properly appreciating it. Vocally,I feel we have the strongest component in this album! A very diverse vocal range of powerful growls, screams, grunts, chants, cleans and everything in between makes the Dani Filth-envying vocal performance remarkable. Songs like I and Human Strain demonstrate clean singing similar to Nevermore and Judas Priest, a nice change to the now-typical flowery cleans of extreme metallers, giving more dynamic to the band, though I was hoping to hear more clean singing. Also,more vocal layering might have given the songs a more epic outlook.
So, what's there to complain about? The mix. As mentioned above,i have some problems with it. The kick drum is too overbearing, and this drowns out a lot of the other instruments. Guitars could have been meatier, and the bass could have had a heavier presence. Perhaps a label might pick up Deus Ex and remaster this otherwise fantastic record! If it werent for the production, I'd have given the band a 90 at least! So, support this unique Singaporean band and buy the CD from CDBaby or through the band itself!