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Right off the bat, I'll say it. This is experimental, even for Senmuth. Sure, he's done crazy things with ethnic instruments and electronica and metal and everything else out there, but this is one of his albums where he seems truly progressive minded and shows his industrial side. An emphasis has been placed on a more uncomfortable alien-like atmosphere, on industrial rhythms and ideas, and on more mechanical riffing. Riffing! And here you thought Senmuth was all folk instruments and ambience. How wrong you are!
As soon as things start, it's obvious this won't be much like Senmuth's usual material (which is, in it's own right, weird as hell). The opening and closing tracks may even appeal somewhat to drone enthusiasts, choosing to utilize subtly changing, droning soundscapes for fairly long periods of time before giving way to spacey and alien sounding keyboard melodies. However, they also eventually begin to make use of Senmuth's layer-upon-layer style of composing music. One keyboard melody plays, followed by another alongside it, then another, and another... Rather than using multiple instruments on top of each other, this time he's chosen to do things in a more single-instrument style.
Followup song "Frame 35A76" showcases Senmuth's industrial side. Samples of garbled noise which sounds as if it's coming from a broken transmitter plays alongside minimal, growing keyboards. Beeps and whirrs accent the various swells of slightly menacing sound as it gradually grows to a massive entity before dropping out and fading back to the noise... I'm not sure if it IS noise. By the time it returns it has an almost voice-like quality to it and the song has taken somewhat of a more evil turn. It gets downright unnerving. That's not to say it can't sound positive or happy, however. Though much of the material on here is brooding or strange, songs like "Channels Mars" and "Last Day On Hellas Planitia" are very uplifting and have some very cool moments. Pleasantly simplistic yet catchy riffs (Senmuth's trademark style for a long time) merge with drums influenced by dance music and, in the case of "Channels Mars", vinyl scratches. Much of the music on this album bounces along - I find all of it very fun and entertaining. It can also get very fast and speedy, though the speed is usually carried along by the electronic components rather than the guitar playing.
This album also features one of the heavier songs in Senmuth's career, "Argyre". Experimenting with crushing riffing backed by swirling clouds of bubbling sound samples, Senmuth decides to take an almost Meshuggah-like approach to subtle changes in his riffing dynamics, backed by drumming influenced by breakbeat (as well as actual breakbeat near the start and end of the song). I've had people completely miss evolution of the main riff, or the smaller riff that plays underneath the existing riff. It's all just very subtle in nature, which is something that this might suffer from to the untrained ear.
Overall though, this album is another one of Senmuth's more accessible releases. Featuring a greater emphasis on riffs than before and also creating more easily discernible keyboard melodies, this isn't the most mindfuckingly strange or revolutionary release in his discography. It's some pretty damn fun sympho-electro-industrial metal with the odd ethnic melody though, and I highly recommend it. Fans of Devin Townsend might also find a special spot in their hearts for this, though I can't quite figure out what about this reminds me of him.
Highlights: Channels Mars, Apollinaris, Argyre, Sydonia, Last Day On Hellas Planitia