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Fractal Gates first album was a fairly interesting one, it contained some really good material and despite not being anything particularly special it was a good first album from a young band that showed a lot of promise. Looking to capitalize upon that potential, Fractal Gates second album Beyond the Self shows the band carrying on with their progressive melodeath sound yet whilst fixing several of the flaws that were present on Altered States of Consciousness.
The main difference between Beyond the Self and the first is that the songs have a much stronger sense of purpose. None of the songs ever feel overstretched, there’s no sense of incongruity and the overall album comes off as more consistent and has a much better flow as a result. There’s a greater example of stellar musicianship and overall the melodies are more sublime. Take the track Reverse Dawn for example, it opens up with an Insomnium inspired lead before quickly moving into atmospheric and soothing melodeath. Fractal Gates is excellent at creating soothing melodeath, and yet despite being somewhat derivative of Finnish melodeath bands such as Insomnium, Noumena and especially Omnium Gatherum, Fractal Gates have their own sound. The spacey leads are really what sets this apart from a dozen other atmospheric based melodeath bands. Some of the leads have a definite post rock influence to them, and yet whilst this never goes beyond being a mere influence the presence is definitely felt.
Fractal Gates have a tendency to mix elements from all over the melodeath spectrum, whether that’s from the progressive and atmospheric variety of bands like Be’lakor and Omnium Gatherum to the Gothenburg scene and even to the power metal influenced bands such as Raintime. It’s a good mixture and one that certainly pays off for this style. Whilst Fractal Gates are referred to as a progressive band, there’s not much in the way of standard progressive traits such as guitar acrobatics and awkward time signatures. It all feels very comfortable and grounded when compared to what such a label would typically entail. Much of the progressive aspect comes through as the band tinkers with small aspects of the sound, whether that’s from the lead work to the use of keyboards, the band makes minor adjustments to several small aspects of their sound and whilst not altering the sound on any grand scale, it’s enough to give the band their own unique identity.
The vocal work is certainly worthy of note, far removed from the high pitched style used by the Gothenburg scene, the vocals here take the form of a very powerful guttural bark bringing to mind a vocalist such as Mikael Akerfeldt. There’s also the occasional use of clean vocals, however they don’t add anything to the music coming off as quite childish and emotionally flat. Thankfully the clean vocals are seldom used, leaving the powerful growling to take center stage.
Despite the slightly derivative nature of these compositions, Fractal Gates have a created an emotionally engaging and entertaining listen. The guitar work is certainly better than much of what I’ve heard in recent times and the vocals are some of the best in the genre. Beyond the Self is not an album for those looking for something ground breaking but for those looking for something entertaining and that is good for a number of listens. Fans of Be’lakor, Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum should definitely give this a chance.
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.