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Melodic Technicality - 92%

crazpete, March 28th, 2004

Fans of Theory in Practice will immediately note the similarities between this side-project and it’s more widely known partner. The guitar tones, drums, vocals, and elements of song construction bear enough resemblance to one another to draw immediate comparisons. But despite these similarities, while Theory in Practice is a death/black avant-garde band with some strange and interesting jazz influences, Mutant is much more straightforward in its approach to extreme metal.

Mutant plays a unique brand of newer-sounding black metal that incorporates heavy use of the natural harmonic minor scales in its melodies and harmonic substructures (similar to the musical make-up of bands such as Melechesh and Nile). Mutant actually switch consistently between relatively simple minor scales and Aeolian modes and the more rare natural harmonic minor scales, giving the work a dualistic quality not quite at ease with itself that works well to provide some deep musical tension within the aesthetic of this group’s output. Besides this structural and tonal quality, Mutant is a fast and aggressive black metal band.

Guitar work here is flashy and distinctly well-recorded, frequently incorporating long arpeggiated passages that are more educated than other bands who simply travel up and down minor scales, and also quick well-executed sweeps, giving the band an almost technical-death-metal sound in parts. Speed-picking is unusually fast, helping to blur the overall texture of the sounds produced, unlike some more choppy and underground guitar techniques. There are certainly still some heavy metal and thrash components to this, which ground it firmly in the annals of ‘newer-sounding’ black metal, which is not afraid to pick and choose metal styles from palm-muted churning passages to slow power-chord passages of meandering triumphant headbanging thrash (most of which was pioneered by the work of Emperor).

Keyboards here switch between enhancing harmonic blocks of chords and diades to support the guitar-driven melodies of the album, to being lead instruments taking quick and flashy solos on piano and occasionally harpsichord or synth flute. While these keyboard elements can seem goofy, they are quick and musically interesting enough not to mire this band in the ‘silly keyboardy black metal’ realm that many substandard so-called innovators can get bogged down in.

Drummimg here is programmed and sequenced, but with enough attention to detail to make the rolls, breaks, fills sound convincingly decent, and at times the syncopations and ultra-precise nature of the sequencing add a good mechanical atmosphere to this highly technical black metal sound. As with all fake drums, it’s the cymbal sounds that give this away, but there is enough fast-ride work to make the listener focus more on the rhythms and not the tone, which does leave something to be desired.

If there is bass in this recording, it is so thoroughly mixed and mirrored with the guitars as to be nonexistent. There is one unique line acting as an intro to one song I could pick out as definitely being bass.

Vocals are the same high rasp one would expect from Theory in Practice’s later albums, and while they do little for me on an emotional level, they are handled well and certainly don’t detract from the album at all. There is some attention paid to which riffs need vocals and which do not, which turn the vocal tracks less into an ever-present instrument of the band and more into an atmosphere needed to keep the black metal aesthetic (mostly) fully intact.

Overall, this is an excellent technical black metal album. Not genius, but very enjoyable.