without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Sometimes putting forth a progressive sound doesn't involve anything outright virtuosic or overtly technical, but instead taking a slightly different perspective on an established idea. Melodic death metal has been historically tied to a fairly obvious marriage of early death/thrash ideas from the prime movers in the late 80s and early 90s, along with a renewed interest in the harmonically consonant trappings that were more commonplace in the earlier 80s. When hearing the mid to late 90s output of In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, as well as At The Gates' "Slaughter Of The Soul", the presence of a slight Helloween and Iron Maiden tendency in the overall sound is immediately obvious, including the stereotypically upbeat character of the guitar riffs and beats. Fractal Gates begins in their own interpretation of this approach by adhering to the same overall structure, but also by downplaying the up-beat tendencies of the style and substituting it for a slower, more somber post-rock tendency that makes for a more contemplative listening experience.
"Altered State Of Consciousness" lives up to its name quite literally by altering, in a very subtle manner, the largely formulaic and easy to follow ideas heard on "Haven" and "Colony" so that it comes off as less pop/rock in nature, though without sacrificing the accessibility factor to any great degree. When hearing the more droning and gradual groove of the woeful closing song "Departure", the character of sound literally flirts with the miserable plod of a doom metal song. Others such as "Immersion" and "The Encounter" sort of coast along at a very slow to mid-paced stride, much like a stargazer taking note of an occasional meteor but never losing site of the surrounding star-filled sky. The deep, guttural character of the vocals brings a further level of density into the equation, drawing a clear contrast with the more percussive and higher-end character of traditional Gothenburg fair, while still being heavily comparable to it on a musical level.
The employment of post-rock influences does not necessarily manifest itself in a similarly fuzzy character, though hints of it definitely spring up during the lead guitar sections, which largely drone on in a heavily minimalist fashion. The overall rhythmic drive of this album is thick and heavy, but amid the pounding of the lower end guitars, things prove to be quite light and spacey. Arguably the heaviest and most power metal-like song on here is that of "Gates Of Nebula", sporting a principle guitar riff that is heavily reminiscent of recent Amon Amarth, but as things progress, a unified march of thudding drums and pummeling guitars gives way to dense overlay of leads and vocals that come off as almost choir-like in nature. Naturally, the frequent usage of ambient instrumental ditties in between a very uniform approach to songwriting gives the album a greater degree of variation, something that has become something of a trademark of the band since their follow up album continues the duly dubbed "Visions" saga.
While this isn't the most outwardly impressive and memorable collection of songs to come out of this style, it's a real cut above what is mostly passing for music of late out of the so-called prime movers. In fact, In Flames and Soilwork would do well to take some lessons from this approach to merging modern rock influences and keyboards into the style, while also dropping the really lame metalcore influences. This is the sort of album that one might want to take on as an occasional affair, as it doesn't quite exemplify the level of staying power that comes with the early output of At The Gates and Dissection, and thus doesn't lend itself well to obsessive repetition.
Melodic death metal is a difficult genre to break new ground in. It's a genre that has led to the creation of many bands, many of which have been mediocre at best. With their first full-length album, Fractal Gates have made a solid effort to make their mark in the genre. Unfortunately, the album is not all that great. Don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic moments on here, just not enough to make a truly solid album. For the most part, the album sinks into mediocrity.
I'll start with the good.
One of the first things I noticed about this band was the vocalist, Sebastien Pierre. His vocals may not be unique to the genre, but he gets the job done better than some vocalists I've heard.
The guitars on this album are probably the most positive thing I can talk about. The one track on here that I would consider outstanding, (Track 7), has an absolutely fantastic guitar intro which is also used during the chorus of the song. The combination of the guitar, deep vocals, and excellent drumming make the chorus for track 7 incredibly addictive, and the song remains one of my personal favorite melodic death metal songs. The problem is that one outstanding track and several, fairly good tracks are not enough to save an entire album.
Now for the bad.
All I can really say as far as the negative is that out of all the melodic death metal albums out there, this one doesn't stand out quite as much as some. Once I heard Track 7, I became very hopeful that this would turn out to be an amazing melodic death metal experience, but I was a bit disappointed to say the least. Another problem I had with the album was some of the song lengths. Several tracks started out well enough, but became rather uninteresting after a few minutes.
Overall, I'm glad I found this album. I have great respect for the band and they do have a jewel song on this album. The album, at times, can have a tone which almost sounds like you're traveling through the cosmos of space. It's difficult to explain, but listen to track 7 and you'll see what I mean. The one thing I am keeping in mind is that this is the first full-length album by the band, and if they come out with more material in the future, I'm sure that their ideas will be more matured. This album shows that the band has some good ideas, I just hope that they find what works best in their sound and really tap into it.
Best Track: The Eclipse