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Cup of Lethe - 80%

gasmask_colostomy, October 8th, 2019

Not to detract from this album, but every time I listen to it, I’ve forgotten how it sounded the last time. I’m not sure if that’s because it really does change each time I press play, though I suspect not, since I often pick up the same things again each time. These Norwegians caused a quiet commotion with the release of their debut full-length in 2005 and have spent more than a decade since maintaining a resolute silence, perhaps due to involvement in other projects. The most notable sick note for the Frantic Bleep team is progressive doom outfit Madder Mortem, which can lay claim to more than half of the line-up that recorded The Sense Apparatus, either as simultaneous participants in both bands or as ex-members. A little like their more prolific brethren (and sister) in Madder Mortem, this quintet’s skillset covers producing atmosphere and resisting pigeonholing.

Nevertheless, an umbrella term of progressive metal gathers in most of the elements at play here, including some polyrhythmic dissonance, djenty guitar moments, and loud/quiet storytelling sprawl. Somewhat like Green Carnation and Barren Earth, Frantic Bleep manage to meld together separate metal aims into fairly succinct songs, only heading over six minutes on ‘Nebulous Termini’ and tying the nine songs up in under three quarters of an hour. Main vocalist Kjetil Fosseid also proves accessible by sounding similar to his Nordic pals in the two above bands, as well as Frode Forsmo (once of Funeral), especially when he adopts a darkly relaxed tone during the cartwheeling ‘Mandaughter’, which (perhaps deliberately) sounds nothing like any of those groups. A few harsher moments courtesy of bassist Paul Mozart Bjørke muddy the waters, briefly encountering alien forms when ‘The Expulsion’ heavies up before spending 10 seconds as a frog in Jonathon Davis’s throat, which is not the only time that nostalgic Korn fans may suddenly feel their dreadlocks tingling.

Due to the mostly scattershot approach employed by Frantic Bleep, I find myself pleasantly diverted throughout the whole album, though experiencing interest more than enjoyment for much of the time. As I mentioned at the outset, I have few specific memories of listening to The Sense Apparatus, suggesting that the band were attempting to create thoughtful music and left catchiness aside. Reading the lyrics will certainly strengthen that idea, as the bated breath of doomy closer ‘Cone’ revolves around the following two verses:

In our cradles we dream sweetly
Of destinations we can never reach.
Down here, in our death struggle
We vainly try to learn,
How could we end here
With our last seventh sense?

Paint our dreams one more time,
Coexistence or no existence!

That said, ‘Curtainraiser’ manages to slip its hook under my mind each time, resulting in the refrain (repeated only once, with different instrumentation) “Relax, my little fairy queen / She did tremble like an aspen leaf” forming my most solid link to the album, despite being unsuited to sum it up. Indeed, it’s as if the band tried to shake the listener off with each successive song, never going back to the tropes of the previous cut, yet returning full circle to the dirge-like riff of ‘A Survey’ as ‘Cone’ growls to a close. Arguably, a concept is at work here, especially going by the depthy lyrics and suggestive artwork, but that eludes me too.

Therefore, for all that this tries to convince me of its creativity and complexity, I can’t really be sure that The Sense Apparatus is a great album. Nothing seems extra or miscalculated, though certain passages offer much more than others, highlighted when the atmospheric keyboards and gorgeous spiraling guitar motif dress up ‘...But a Memory’ like a Christmas dinner, in contrast with the awkward, cold leftovers offered by the riff of the preceding ‘Sins of Omission’. One thing that is for certain is the strong stamp of personality that Frantic Bleep left on (probably) their sole album: there’s no greater endorsement for fans of complex metal, particularly those of Barren Earth and recent Katatonia, that nothing else sounds or feels quite like this.