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The lame kind of stupid - 66%

lord_ghengis, April 13th, 2015

I have no idea why this album took me so long to give a shot to. It obviously has a massively committed following, they play in a branch of weird and inventive brutal and techy but still organic and old schoolish death metal, I enjoyed the band's previous incarnation quite a lot, and a friend of mine who's opinion I do respect a lot rates it as the greatest thing ever; it's an album I should have been really chomping at the bit for but it took me a good six years to give it a go. With 6 years of pressuring and tales of brilliance behind it, it's a little hard to say when I've given it enough of a go to really see it on its own merits, but after a few months of letting it sink in I've decided to stick to my guns and stand by what I thought the first time I head it: This is kinda retarded.

This is a dense, expansive and inventive album, so actually figuring out why this album sits so wrong for me may take a while. The album is a weird combination of middle eastern scales, Worm-era Cryptopsy riffs, major scale riffs and hooks, brutal death tinges, aggressive bursts, grinding passages, tech death drumming, new age-y atmospheric spiritualism, indecipherable grunts, and unintrusive but essential synths all adding into something of impressive scale. It does all this without sacrificing too much in the way of riffcraft, indeed there are some killers on here, and retains their former ability to be impressively brutal or entertainingly technical while being undeniably composed with atmosphere and emotion as a primary goal. There's really nothing else like it; hell, even Appalling Spawn who effectively merged the BDM stuff with the upbeat melodicism, look positively generic in comparison.

But it's stupid. Really, really stupid.

Not that stupidity in music is actually a bad thing by default. Many of my favourite albums both metal and not are downright touched, this just does idiotic in the wrong way. In short the dopey ideas on this don't really sound that wacky or crazy, it's all quite serious and careful in the way everything comes together. I'm not saying that dumb music needs to be ironically campy in a sense of "haha our music is a stupid joke" sense, but more in just an understanding that what is being created is on some level crazy and outside the box. Dumb music can be serious, legitimately well composed music designed to appeal on its own merit, I just don't think it should be this earnest in terms of emotional loading and atmospheric scale. Lykathea Aflame are dead set on making this music carry a certain mood and meaning to it, and that meaning and mood is dumb as fuck. This reminds me of my weird aunt who runs an antique store trying her hardest to cure my mother's back pain with the healing power of crystals, or of a nerdy kid writing a 38 issue comic saga about he and Sonic the Hedgehog saving the pretty girls from school and proudly printing copies and leaving them in the school library; it's doing particularly goofy things but it doesn't seem to recognise that it's being goofy. Instead of taking an outwardly crazy and strange idea and making it some kind of over the top mind fuck, they've opted to make this low key and grounded.

The cause of this coming across as exceedingly lame rather than exciting and fresh despite the undeniable genre-breaking inventiveness and stunning originality is a bit strange; somewhat counterintuitively, the problem is how damn well they've stuck this crap together. It's quite impressive really. They haven't done the usual "LOLRANDOM" stick shit together approach which most crappy outwardly dumb bands go for, as I'm sure 99% of other bands who would have tried to combine brutal death metal with melodic death metal with ethnic ambient with egyptian folk would have done, this fits together in a cohesive whole and that is goddamned incredible. They've done this with careful layering of both guitar melodies and keys, an intensive and frequently intentionally jarring drumming effort from Tomáš Corn, and dual styled vocals that like the drums can frequently betray its baseline music so as to improve a transition. This is an exceedingly carefully composed work and compositionally mindblowing, but the fluidity of it all is what makes it so funny.

I'll start off with the album's greatest strength as a prime example of unintentional awkward comedy on offer here, the drumming. Tomáš Corn is an amazing drummer who pretty much plays nothing but techniques I adore. On my first few listens, he was the big carrot on the stick who had me convinced everything was going to click and I was going to love it like I'll never love my own children. He's fast, convincingly brutal, progressive and fluid enough to change with the vastly branching directions of the album and utterly steals the show with some insanely well timed bursts of gravity blasts or atypical rhythm work. It's truly a powerhouse performance. He also completely nails Flo Mounier's transition blast technique of not using blasts for the main bodies of the metal segments or powerful riffs, but saving them to accelerate the music during major shifts in tempo, style or riff, or just to take control and hide what could be considered a clumsy join with well-timed moments of flash or percussive relentlessness. Anything which instantly brings my mind back to the coolest things about None So Vile is going to leave a damn positive impression on me, so to say the least concluding that all this brilliance is actually a dumb thing has taken some contemplation.

So how do I get from powerhouse NSV-esque performance to dumb? In short, frequency and context. Lykathea Aflame jump around a shitload more than Crytopsy used to, hell Lykethea Aflame jump around a shitload more than Appalling Spawn used to. In effect they were going for the exact same idea with their last band, but here it just goes for the gravity blast transition just way too much. Corn's work is scary fast and it works in launching the listener at a million miles per hour every time they decided to drastically change a riff or add in some uplifting synth loop, but it happens every twelve seconds so eventually it gets to the point where it just seems silly, if not a tad annoying. Then when you consider that half of these ridiculous energy bursts are used to mix something relating to brutal death metal to something that could be playing in a particularly incense overloaded soap store it begins to just seem funny to me. While keeping the drumming full speed while you drop out the guitars to make way for some soaring tones is an effective and clever way to link two utterly different concepts together, I can't help but snigger at it. Firing away on your tin-can snare at 300bpm might be a good way to wake people up out of their hypnotic astral sleep and remind them that this is a death metal album, but the shock is as likely to make me snort my drink through my nose as to make me spontaneously move into metal-mode. Corn's link up drumming ends up feeling like the musical equivalent of the ramping film technique in 300, except since there’s so much floaty peacefulness around the image is more akin to all the greased up bearded men instead tickling each other with feathers at drastically different speeds.

My personal distaste for the general approach of the non-metal here is more or less just a taste thing. I dunno, I've never been hugely interested in spiritualism or new age philosophies, and basically I find this sort of floaty, vaguely co-opted from eastern folk positivity shtick to be really cheesy. This is just me, I don't think they do it badly from what I know of this stuff, they've obviously put time into layers and harmonisation, but it's just my stance that this new age-y prog ambient is for shyster palm readers and weird aunts. So while I find the obviously looped bird samples or overstretched-because-we-obviously-think-this-is-profound nature of "Walking in the Garden of Ma'at" to be embarrassing, they're not really what I want to dwell on. I'd rather dwell on the (moderately) less taste based stance that mixing it with metal is goofy as hell, all the time. Just the concept of putting some sort of hopeful and spiritual minimalist prog in tandem with something an inherently dickbrained as a goddamned slam is just wrong. As I've said, they've done it way better and more seriously than I could have ever imagined, but hearing the combo executed for real rather than just in my head does little but sway my expected result from "fucking awful" to "chortle deservingly lame". They mix this floaty, dweeby stuff with admittedly very melodic and upbeat fully fledged metal all the goddamned time, and the dumb shock of it all never fails to bluntly suck me out of either a euphoric peaceful state or a rocking out fun one.

As far as I've been able to tell, the mediocre "A Step Closer" is the only song here which doesn't do something stupid enough to ruin any other good will I've built up in other parts of the song, and that's just because it's a melodeath song with a folksy outro with no jumping around or blending. There are good parts all over the place really, but there's always something dumb to ruin everything. "Sadness and Strength" may have the single best atmospheric break on the album featuring an equally catchy but intriguing sitar-esque melody, but the way the song's first portion jumps absolutely ridiculously between a menacing tremolo riff combined with a Mounier trademarked bursting blast beat and floaty synths or an intricate melodeath lead is just stupid. "An Old Man and a Child" delivers the album's BDM quota, and has a pretty cool part where they add some kind of spacy laser sound to a slam, but they also mix slams with the ethnic ambience and it makes it seem like Short Bus Pile Up have decided to massacre a Peruvian pipe band. I could keep going because these sort of clashes are just endless, but I've yammered on enough I think.

When I imagine seeing this live, I see the band be getting right into it with passion and authenticity, jumping between headbanging violence and sudden shifts to eyes-closed-with-head-back-facing-the-sky spiritual transcendence. However in doing this they'd have some goofy growl and tremolo merge with a floaty synth and laid back cymbal beat and I'd accidentally scoff at the derpiness of it all, causing me to spit my drink into their pants making them look they'd wet themselves. But they wouldn't notice, they'd keep on going, travelling deep into their very spirits while standing in a crowded room with visibly pissed pants, unaware of how they look. Really, this laughability seems to be the major issue here for me, I like a bunch of the riffs here, I like the vocals, I love the drumming on its own, even stand alone with moodier moments are pretty emotionally lifting and lively. As far a genuine negatives go, the clean vocals suck terribly, some of the riffs are just doofy on their own even without context (ie, the sitar bounce in “On the Way Home”), and the album is frustratingly overlong given the up and down nature of the compositions, but really that’s about it. There's too much good stuff to say I outright hate this, but it's too silly to really resonate powerfully, and too serious and controlled to be fun or charming.