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Melodic death metal is a difficult genre to innovate in because it tends to lend itself to a very simplistic format, falling just a tad bit short of becoming pop music. In contrast to power metal, another fairly accessible sub-genre to which melodeath is often compared, this mainstream tendency comes in a harsher yet even more formulaic package, scarcely deviating from the traditional rock radio songwriting format. Any notion of progression being introduced into the equation would likely imply playing with the format to the point that this style's overtly formulaic nature would give way to something far more complex, but the approach taken by French outfit Fractal Gates actual amounts to something along the lines of tinkering around the edges, rather than outright revamping the format while clinging to the same general sound aesthetic.
While this notion of just throwing in a few extras to spice up an established formula rarely amounts in something profound or genre defining, it can often result in something worth listening to for entertainment value and definitely stands above a number of overt rehashes of In Flames and At The Gates, both of which have become very common of late, though mercifully less overdone than the current metalcore craze embraced by the former and a few others. Indeed, "Beyond The Self" listens with about the same level of intrigue and impact as late 90s albums such as "Colony" and "Projector", taking on more of the somber and fatalistic qualities of Dark Tranquillity's side of the equation, while definitely keeping a chunky bottom end that is a bit indicative of In Flames.
There are some deviations to be found on here from the typical Gothenburg emulation, the most obvious of which is the vocal persona of Sebastian Pierre. In contrast to the higher pitched, almost blackened character head out of Tomas Lindberg and most of the Gothenburg crowd, what is heard on here is much deeper and forbidding in character, listening along the lines of the guttural berserker barks heard on a typical Amon Amarth album. It provides a rather interesting twist on an instrumental approach that is not quite as fast and grandiose as a Viking oriented take on the style. Likewise, there is something of a slight post-rock character to some of the riff work as heard on "The Experiment" and "Timeless" that are generally not bothered with in this style, along with a peculiar employment of ambient noise interludes to space out what is otherwise a fairly conventional set of songs.
This is the sort of album that can be listened to and enjoyed on occasion, but it doesn't quite jump out and demand continual listens. It is very well put together and organic sounding, especially considering that the drums are programmed yet sound reasonably human in their employment. It mostly comes off as somber and mid-tempo in character, not all that dissimilar from the middle era of Dark Tranquillity, though it does shift over to an animated power metal-like feel during the title song "Beyond The Self". If nothing else, this album proves that music doesn't necessarily have to stray too far from established practices to be good, though the format here could definitely stand to be further developed and veer a bit further from established Gothenburg orthodoxies in order to really put this band on the map. Pretty much anyone who liked the Swedish scene between 1996 and 2001 will want to watch this band.