Abstracted – Atma Conflux
Abstracted hail from “São Paulo, Brazil”. They are a new progressive death metal act who, prior to the release of their debut album, only teased us with a few single releases that I noticed but haven’t paid that much attention to. But they did seem noteworthy enough to throw an ear at the full-length debut. As a long time fan of progressive and technical death metal, I have always held bands signed to The Artisan Era as the high standard for these genres, and really for anything out there that dare wear the label of “extreme metal”. And I can flat out say that this album has topped all Artisan Era releases that I heard this year. It is long, complex, challenging, captivating and relevant every step of the way. And when you think it’s a debut release, the surprise factor amplifies thousandfold. “Atma Conflux” feeds so much intricacy and creativity to the listener that I wouldn’t dare say, at this point, that I have gotten properly familiarized with it, although I’ve given it quite a number of spins. I do however have more thoughts about it than I can count, so I decided I’d just sit down and start rambling.
First off, it refuses to cooperate with genre boundaries, constantly finding some element that will help it escape a solid categorization, but given the extremity and complexity of it, I would still say that progressive and technical death metal are the dominant influences. Based on the artwork, song lengths and the influences listed by the band (Obscura, Necrophagist, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me), I sad down to listen to this album, expecting to be blasted out of my seat and pummeled relentlessly until I lose any sense of coherence. Surprisingly enough though, the opening track, ‘Introspection – Ego Death’, greeted me with soft, atmospheric and elegant acoustic guitars that layered nicely to build a breathy meditative and eclectic atmosphere. Well it must be just an intro though. The song then evolved into something that felt rather like melodic death metal, and although it gradually gets properly heavy, it was still the fluidity of composition, coherence and creativity that took the spotlight for quite some minutes. Add clean vocals and the brutality that I had first anticipated gradually started to fade as I was ready to sink into an intellectual and unpredictable progressive experience. Did I mention that the opening track is 13 minutes long though? A lotta things can happen in that time. Like blast beats… and thrash influences, and death growls, and odd time signatures, and djenty effects, and guitar solos, and keyboard solos, and robotic vocals… doesn’t take long to get lost in the mashup. Fair to say at this point, they were keeping the blasting and pummeling stored up for later and instead of blasting it all in my face, they rather chose to intensify the music gradually, and at some point I was being battered around like a half-dead weasel and I couldn’t remember when it all started. It isn’t just brutal. It got obscene, and absolutely ridiculous, and I must say, sitting through the entire album the first time, took a lot of energy. But the sheer quality of it couldn’t be denied and I needed to come back for more.
Abstracted – Between Samsara and Samadhi
Subsequent listens of this colossus will however allow it to unfold and make sense, and from the chaos of mathematical abyss, melodies, themes, ideas and feelings start to emerge. Have you ever tried to ponder on the deepest universal secrets or dive into deep introspective meditation while being sucked into a wormhole? Nah, I haven’t either, but this album gets close. To put all the ridiculous metaphors aside though, I do want to dive into the way this absurd music is structured and delivered.
On guitars, there are complex odd time signatures and unanticipated cuts in the riffage happening all the time. The guitar parts may come in more thrashy patterns, or in tremolo picking, or in chugs and galloping, or in dynamic guitar runs that border riffs, solo and melody, or djenty sliced patterns. Basically any form of guitar extremity imaginable short of Tosin Abasi’s unique picking style, they’ve probably managed to squeeze in somewhere on this album. It’s a riffs salad with an extra noodly dressing. But they keep a flow. While I won’t deny for a second that it’s incredibly difficult to follow everything that’s going on, I must say that all the madness has a lot of thought put into it, and in some supernatural way I fail to describe, it works musically. There’s always some element of groove, rhythm or melody peering through the savagery and keeping the surge of energy intact. The musical ideas cascade from one into the other effortlessly and the cuts or changes in pace, although unexpected, feel like they were supposed to be there. And given that there are 2 guitars, the sound isn’t only full and massive, but often interactive in some way, as brutality and melody are bounced back and forth from one guitar to the other like a psychotic game of catch, with rules written in equations of quantum mechanics carved into stone by lasers… of there I go with the metaphors again, I must have lost a brain cell or two when I was jamming the album.
On drums, we have the juicy tech death goodies in the form of high-speed double kicks and blast beats, but those are only a sample of what drummer Alexandre Dantas can do. His delivery is groovy, engaging, dynamic and always spicing things up with transitions, rhythmic changes and subtle details. I wouldn’t say the speed of drumming ever gets as ridiculous as you’d hear from bands like Inferi or Beyond Creation, but it gets close enough, however, the main gist of it is the unpredictability and the chaotic yet methodically structured nature of the constant transitioning, that gets me thinking of my ultimate favourite prog bros in Persefone. And rarely do I ever compare a band with them. The bass however, does very strongly suffer from the Beyond Creation syndrome, and I would quite confidently take a chance to say it’s fretless. Riverton Aldes brings the fluid, robotic and waily effect of modern tech death and makes it his own, mainly by knowing to choose his moments. While he makes it absolutely clear that he can, he doesn’t always stick his neck out and will gladly dweel in background pummeling mode while other instruments are busy doing the wacky things, then it will be given some intended moments to shine, as can most clearly be heard on Eightfold Path.
Abstracted – Decree of Sunlight (feat. Mike Semeski)
Keyboardist “Carol Lynn Claro” I feel in a way has the smallest role to play in the band. I’m not sure if the keyboards just don’t get through the mix very well, or if there are long passages where the keys simply aren’t used, but especially given the onslaught that this album is, I feel like a bit more keys coating would have smoothed things up a bit and made the thing a bit less punishing and more digestible. However, when they do show up, the keyboards either tag along to the running riffage infecting a sense of melody into it or set a background of string that fills the sound. And I’m sure I heard at least one epic keyboard solo on “Wither to Dust”, although more may have gotten lost in the mayhem. And while we’re talking solos, I must say that guitarists Guilherme Nolasco and Rosano Pedro Matiusi (also vocalist) do a fantastic job in solos and duels, merging shreddy technicality with a melodic approach, often built on top of progressive shaky and constantly changing rhythmic foundations, which is both difficult and really really cool!
On vocals, I already mentioned there is a considerable amount of clean singing that I wasn’t expecting. The clean vocals are good, but not my favourite, and I would probably describe them as typical heavy metal or metalcore clean vocals, probably with a stronger edge of grittiness. They do fit with the texture and help mixing up the vocal palette though. And on screams, this guy manages to sound like a combination of Johan Hegg and Michael Akerfeldt, while still fitting well against the more modern progressive death metal sound that the band brings forth. And lyrically, we’re probably dealing with a spiritual concept inspired from Buddhist or Sanskrit or some mix of Asian and Indian-ish cultures and beliefs, represented in the most badass way possible. This reminds me of my fondness towards what I like to call tech-death meditation (See Persefone, Sutrah, Vipassi and Irreversible Mechanism) and also solidifies their status of progressive universal omnipotence (I just decided that’s a thing).
Overall, the only complaint I can give to this otherwise brilliant album is that it gets slightly overbearing and complicated, even for the well trained prog and death metal listener. But at that cost, you get one of the most impressive, gargantuan and multi-faceted prog death metal releases I’ve heard in recent years, and it truly is a joy to witness. I recommend this album to any fan of complex or extreme music and I’m sure it will be very close to the top in my list of albums for 2022.
- Introspection – Ego Death (13:30)
- Wither to Dust (05:05)
- Whisper Into the Void (06:34)
- Between Samsara and Samadhi (05:04)
- Eightfold Path (09:51)
- Decree of Sunlight (08:48)
- Prospection – Ethereal Rebirth (15:25)