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Cosmic visuals with a predictable course. - 80%

hells_unicorn, December 21st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Rain Without End Records

Fairly often it seems that greatness is as much a matter of timing than it is simply a matter of competency, at least in the eyes of those with a limited threshold for a given stylistic expression. Melodic death metal is largely at a disadvantage because it lacks the sort of cult-like devotion that more extreme versions of death metal have in their fanbase due to its more accessible demeanor towards the wider musical world, and is simultaneously subject to said larger scene's finicky nature. To put it bluntly, there isn't really anything terribly innovative coming out of the brutal or grindcore scenes of late when compared with the succession that a newer tier melodeath band like France's Fractal Gates has brought about, nor has anybody in any sub-genre really managed to reinvent the wheel in the past 20 years. As such, this band, like many others of their persuasion that have cropped up in the past decade or so and focused on a sound that has been fairly established since the early 2000s, should be judged relative to the quality of their respective output, and it is here that Fractal Gates' third opus The Light That Shines stands as a strong improvement over their last two outings.

The formula at play here is pretty straightforward, drawing upon the dense, atmospheric aesthetic that encompasses much of the Finnish take on the style of late, particularly in bands such as Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium. They bill themselves as having a progressive caveat to their craft, but apart from a somewhat more technical guitar display that reminds pretty heavily of Skyfire and a richer array of ambient sounds coming from the keyboards to give things a bit more of an ethereal flavor, the extent by which this album veers outside of the common formula under consideration is fairly minimal. Their vocal display follows the sort of deep, guttural growling character employed by Jukka Pelkonen (Omnium Gatherum), with maybe a slight bit more of a whispery character at times, which melds nicely with the layered harmonies of guitars and keyboard drones. In essence, this album is a bit more geared towards an overall sound aesthetic rather than a lone gimmick that sets them apart from their influences, though the tech happy, Michael Amott meets Martin Hanner guitar soloing approach that litters most of these songs could be construed as a blatant deviation from an otherwise uniform approach meant to draw attention.

Perhaps the greatest charm that this album possesses, and arguably also its greatest weakness, is that it is fairly simply presented from a songwriting standpoint. Shorter running anthems like "Arise", "Infinity" and the fairly concise title song "The Light That Shines" have more of a straightforward song-like format to them that comes off as almost comparable to Arch Enemy at times, though it differs heavily in terms of atmospheric density here despite these songs being among the more impact-based and fast-paced of the bunch. Even the more stretched out songs like "Sea Of Flames" and "Faceless" don't waste much time in getting to this album's version of the meat and potatoes of things, though there are greater occasions for getting lost in the atmosphere of things due to all of the various moving parts that cycle in and out at the top end of the arrangement. That is arguably how this album achieves some degree of progressive credentials, as it actually outclasses even the deep textures of Be'Lakor and Insomnium in terms of sheer density and may actually overload the listener's ears with moving parts, causing things to be missed during the first listen.

What ultimately sets this album above the previous two installments of the Fractal Gates sound is that these songs manage to be a bit memorable, in spite of occasionally being easy to mistake for something off of one of the last couple Omnium Gatherum albums to the untrained ear. The recurring theme of brief keyboard interludes that are affectionately known as the "Visions" series prove to be a continually interesting touch, allowing for the band to further justify their outward obsession with the empyreal realm, and here also showcasing an affinity for the sort of industrial-like soundtrack music of films of the modern tinge such as that Tom Cruise flick from 2013 Oblivion. It's by no means the best thing to ever come out of the genre and it probably won't win any new converts to it, but those either already in the melodeath congregation or otherwise flirting with joining it will find an entertaining and mildly distinctive experience to complement their diet of keyboard rich and guitar happy Finnish goodness, albeit with a French accent.

Later published to The Metal Observer (www.metal-observer.com) on February 13, 2019.

The death of melodic death - 44%

gasmask_colostomy, December 21st, 2018

You've always got to approach melodic death metal with caution, especially when bands claim to be doing something new with the sound. Fractal Gates have a minor variety of such claims, which is that their keyboards make the music atmospheric, as well as themes of cosmic scope (take a look at the album covers) enlarging the scale of their compositions. I'd like to reliably inform you that nothing new happens on The Light That Shines, right down to the uninspiring title. I mean, aren't there cooler space-themed names for songs? Even Muse thought of 'Supermassive Black Hole'. The influences seem pretty clear as well, the Finnish sense of melody having found its way to this French quintet, as well as the specific vocals of Omnium Gatherum. Be'lakor comes close to the overall feeling too, so at least it's not all Gothenburg stuff, but it's been done to death anyway.

Despite sounding like they had a good studio budget to record this third album, Fractal Gates don't make the most of their resources. The rhythm guitar tone feels considerably thicker than the melodies that shower around every introduction and chorus, while the keyboards are airy and drifting more than actually invasive, making everything seem ephemeral and slightly mysterious if you've never heard anyone play melodeath before. Drums add more in the way of punch, an excellent snare crash keeping everything on track despite an odd, triggered kick sound that stands out during the faster moments. That sounds like a reasonable basis to form exciting music, however Fractal Gates have a very different definition of exciting to me. Apart from three regularly-spaced interludes, everything dances and scampers at a similar pace, inevitably getting the job done in under five minutes, barring a marginally longer closer in 'Seas of Flames'.

The structuring of many of the songs makes me want to cry, since nothing memorable happens in the choruses to lead me back to them, while any songs that deviate from typical verse and chorus structure leave me equally cold, since they sound no different. When you consider it, that's a serious problem for The Light That Shines: you may leave the listening experience humming a melody but you probably won't remember which song it was from, owing to the extreme homogeneity of them all. I can pick out a couple of riffs in 'Arise' that hover above the mush, while the title track does well with abrupt chord changes and songs like 'Dreams Apart' offer a sense of shimmering wonder that feels interesting but doesn't actually lead to anything of note, the backing keys proving their worth yet remaining just backing keys.

I don't know if I've missed the point with Fractal Gates or if I'm more discerning about my melodeath than those reviewers of Beyond the Self. Why I would listen to this when there are already better versions of the same thing is a question I'm not able to answer: I'd rather turn back to The Redshift for some atmosphere in similar songs (and a better space-themed title), or give up entirely on the genre if this passes for new ideas. I'm afraid to say it, but my door is firmly closed to Fractal Gates.