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I thought for a while, sometime in the mid-90’s, that a perfect for the time metal album would be a fusion of technical death metal and Meshuggah’s sterile, cold mechanics; something like a mixture of the Swedes’ “Destroy, Erase, Improve” and Atheist’s “Unquestionable Presence”. The industrial and post-thrash movements had fully epitomized Meshuggah’s bleak, apocalyptic rifforamas by, say, 1996, and it was kind of time for the death metal fraternity to give them a shot as well. And then, literally like an answer to my hypothetical musical crossbreeding schemes, appeared these wizards Theory in Practice with their debut “Third Eye Function” (1997), also from Sweden. This effort, while deeply immersed in the technical death metal idea, suggested at more mathematical, robotic progressions not too alien to their already mentioned compatriots’ musical innovations.
However, Theory in Practice’s visions were aiming much higher than saturating their chosen field with “dubious”, not yet proven ingredients, and on subsequent works they developed into a marvellous, unique entity. Then Gorguts’ “Obscura” came a year later and changed the world of death metal entirely. After this opus incorporating djent and math elements into the genre wasn’t such an urgent agenda anymore as the level of the ultimate abstractism was already reached; death metal had spaced out beyond any tangible boundaries.
Back to the hybridization laboratory: in a case like this it’s very important for a band to achieve the perfect balance between the two sides; if there’s too much unmelodic chugga-chugga riffage, the less tolerant death metal fanbase would stop paying attention before long. If there’s too much hyper-fast technicality and sweeping Swedish death melodies, the math and djent audience will run away. One has to admit that to keep such different metal fractions happy with one offering is not the easiest task in the world, but it appeared that in 2008 these young enthusiasts, known as Terminal Function, have achieved it; believe it or not. And they were also from Sweden…
This band’s debut album “Measuring the Abstract” has a most tell-tale title: the guys have indeed been measuring the abstract additives to their musical palette very carefully thus producing the finest symbiosis of the two mentioned sides on the scene that is yet to be surpassed. The Meshuggah’s polyrhythmic madness has received graceful technical death metal “baptism”, plus several precious fusion/jazz interactions as a bonus (think Cynic’s “Focus” and Pestilence’s “Spheres” for the latter). On top of that, these youngsters so nicely remind of their peers Theory in Practice who were already gone at the time; they weave very similar elaborate, schizoid riff-patterns without blasting to the extreme. And, another reference to that band’s debut may have been made with the band name…
In fact, speed doesn’t play an important role here at all; the moment the opening “Spawn” starts, the listener will quickly realize that this would be a different aural experience with the jarring dispassionate riffage and the beautiful oblivious melodies, this uncanny co-existence soon “visited” by serpentine technical moments which, albeit lasting till the end, tolerate all kinds of interruptions like fusion-esque “idylls”, dry mathematical “equations”, meditative balladisms, and sudden progressive sweeps ala later-period Death. “Room 101” inaugurates in the same jumpy fashion with djent ruling over the proceedings gradually pushed on the side by more melodic, also quite intricate, riff-formulas that grow into a cool dramatic build-up where fine clean vocals appear as opposed to the main gruff death metal ones; math and jazz “cross swords” later the “battle” won by a third party, technical death metal that is, which appears suddenly to sweep the scenery with a portion of dazzling dramatic pyrotechnics. “Dissolving Soul Fragments” “flirts” with the ballad for a start, but the choppy technicality is just around the corner marching for a bit before being absorbed by the next in line fusion-like break and the soulful clean vocals; astounding technical passages follow suit raising the flag of Theory in Practice sky high with their twisted, weird aura.
“The Brain-Shaped Mind” is a most hectic shredder at the beginning with even more puzzling decisions served towards the middle alongside fine melodic motifs akin to Death again; the guys start bending it like Meshuggah in the second half djent and fusion “creeping” together until ”meeting” the exiting technical stroke. “Tactile” is the long lost number from “Chaosphere”, a math masterpiece second to none which even Meshuggah would find really hard to produce nowadays; expect the obligatory fusion/jazzy breaks to interfere with death metal occupying a small niche towards the end. “Cloning Assembly” unleashes stunning technical “skirmishes”, and from this engaging moment onwards there’s no let up regardless of the several more melodic digressions, the stylish rifforama is never-ending here gradually subsiding till the silent finale. “Auroral Display” is 1-min of enigmatic operatic ambience, a “rude awakening” provided by the introductory guitars of the closer “Remote Views” which starts the drama with nerve-scratching shades of djent before the guys remind of their idols Theory in Practice again with exemplary technical riffing; the staple fusion-esque digression mid-way is nicely overwritten by more sweeps of standout technicality although the band’s penchant for sprawling progressive, “jazz vs. fusion” etudes takes the upper hand at the end.
Yes, you can have the best of both, even three if you like, worlds, and this carefully-plotted opus is a most assuring testimony for that. I actually thought that such a feat would be possible way earlier, and that Atheist or Pestilence would be the ones to look askance and embrace the polyrhythmic chugs in order to enrich their already pretty eccentric arsenal. Well, that never happened, and Theory in Practice left this process unfinished moving away from the last vogue in metal after their short “flirtation” with it on the debut. There were rumours circling around at the time that those sounds were contagious and addictive…
And those rumours were proven right; having already shown in a most evocative way how meticulously the guys prepare for every feat of theirs, they took a long 7-year break before emerging with their next album “Clockwork Sky”. I thought that they might produce something along the lines of Cynic’ “Traced in Air” having in mind their frequent staggerings towards the jazz/fusion arena on the debut. At the same time, the album-title was kind of pointing at another direction, one where there was no room for airy and spacey “non-sense”. And said title was an apt hint; it turned out that the polyrhythmic epidemic has completely overtaken all other ingredients erasing them from the band’s palette, and this new opus is more Meshuggah than Meshuggah’s own “The Violent Sleep of Reason” (2016); a setback in almost every department except for the diehard djent and math lovers who will nod in dispassionate approval at every chug and click, and those are amply provided all the way.
I think the death metal brotherhood should be put under quarantine since this mechanical “disease” continues spreading like hell having taken other “victims” like Wormed, Beyond the Gates, Sleep Terror, Vedonist, Sickening Horror, Decapitated, Gojira, even Morbid Angel if you like; the list can be by all means extended… If these acts want to do it right, without losing their death metal roots completely that is, I would suggest they give “Measuring the Abstract” a listen; there’s no better “recipe” for a delicious third-eye opening, “sterility in death” “dish”.
Willowtip has always had a good ear for signing brutal and technical new talent in the death and grind fields, and Sweden's Terminal Function is no exception. Not the easiest band to describe, but imagine a hybrid of math metal ala Meshuggah, abstract fusion jazz similar to the interludes on the later Pestilence albums, and the wild technicality of Theory in Practice. Of the three, I'd say the band is closest to the third. I even hear a little of the later Death style, especially with the solos and some of the riffing under said solos.
The band has an excellent grasp of dynamic riffing and instrumental proficiency, and Victor Larsson's aggressive vocals are quite ensnaring when you first hear it. The first track "Spawn" is a great example of their frenetic riffing and the morphing nature of their compositions, interspersed with soft, progressive jazzy guitar breaks. "Tactile" and "Cloning Assembly" were two of the other tracks that really captured me as fine examples of this style, winding exercises in mathematic tempo-shifting metal.
Yet, for some reason, the album didn't capture me as fully as a Theory in Practice or Meshuggah record. The virtuosity of these musicians is hard to deny, they are capable of quite a stir among the tech metal community, but the songs themselves didn't stand up to repeated listens for me. It was more of a situation in which I listened, appreciated, then moved along. I doubt I'll return, but if you're a tech metal fanatic then give it a listen to make up your own mind.
I recently picked this album up from the always consistent shipping department of Willowtip records and what I found was that it was a really fun album to listen to, despite its tendency to make use of its influences relatively undisguised. Its difficult to decide whether this is a bad thing in this case for me because this band has taken influences from several bands that I adore and fused them into a well flowing format. The most obvious influences at work here are Meshuggah and Cynic. You could say that the homage takes away from the album, but for me it just puts it into a different context, and does so well, and they've made sure to write quality riffs despite being based on a similar premise. The polyrhythms have a lot more room to breathe on this than on most similar records, and often times, rhythm is manipulated as part of a repeating phrase, rather than the entire phrase, making less use of the shape-shifting of Meshuggah and more use of creative touch to a riff that can stand alone.
Measuring the Abstract certainly does not move along like a Meshuggah record however. Many of the riffs themselves sound somewhat reminiscent, but they album cycles through somewhat reminiscent of a prog-metal album, chock full of passages that logically progress from one another to take the song in another direction. It is very organized for what it attempts to achieve, and it sounds to me like they've achieved what they wanted to.
This album doesn't have the "jump in" effect that Meshuggah does. It's pretty difficult to get the point I'm about to try to make across, but I'll try anyway. With many meshuggah albums, the rhythm that you choose to follow in the music predominantly ultimately decides what your listening experience is going to be like, because you will hear all of the other rhythms as accents on the one you are following. With Measuring the Abstract, the segments are too short to really "follow alternate routes", and the preceding passage has already left you with an expectation for the riff you are hearing. With less time to absorb and figure out the rhythms at play, the album does NOT meet this standard, however, it avoids playing those really dense riffs that you will hear on a Meshuggah record in lieu of something more open that can flow in the song effectively. Basically, this is the difference in context that makes this album not feel like a Meshuggah rip off to me.
So all in all, this album is like an overzealous version of Meshuggah that breathes more and takes influence from other places. For me, it makes for a pretty interesting journey, and I spin this one occasionally if not often. This album is basically for people who like the sound of the aforementioned bands who are not offended when someone takes influence. Its definitely not anything revolutionary, but it is effective for what it is, and is enjoyable to listen to.
Some bands are happy to wear what they play on their sleeves. While there’s quite a few Meshuggah influenced bands, and a lot of progressive/art bands out there, they’ve never quite crossed paths this much before, so you just know someones vision is coming to fruition.
The melting and shifting between Meshuggah meets progressive is for the most part actually pretty seamless. At one moment you’ll be running along with a polyrhythm, and before you know it, somehow you’ve gotten yourself into jazzy off-time prog runs. Like many progressive artists who want to get the “art” aspect into the music, they usually just shove something in from out of nowhere, in this case it’s more spacey efforts like processed, computerized vocals, clean echoing guitars, or oddly layered singing. Though for the most part the vocals are similar to Car Bomb, of which a few other passages could get a comparison as well.
For the most part, the execution on “Measuring the Abstract” is well done, much like students writing a term paper. To be honest, the real strength is actually the clean sung choruses, as you wouldn’t actually be suspecting them with the Meshuggah influence. The biggest downside tends to be the forced nature that comes with progressive, forcing the strange time signatures fit rather than flow. The song titles are without a doubt though, terrible due to their cliche nature. “Spawn”? “Tactile”? “Room 101”? Those could’ve been pulled from anywhere, and have difficulty holding any meaning, while “Dissolving Soul Fragments” and the album title go over-the-top with over metaphorical progressive standards. Not that people in the real world actually care what a song title actually might mean…
Originally posted at www.waytooloud.com