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Cosmic ponderings with an easy access point. - 75%

hells_unicorn, April 8th, 2013

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.