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The Zenith Passage – Datalysium

The Zenith Passage – Datalysium

The Zenith Passage - Datalysium

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Release Date: 21 July, 2023
  • Label: Metal Blade Records
  • Musicians:
    Justin McKinney - Guitars, Vocals, Drum programming,
    Brandon Giffin - Bass,
    Derek Rydquist - Vocals,
    Christopher Beattie - Guitars
  • Favorite songs:
    Automated Twilight, Datalysium
  • For Fans of:
    Archspire, Beyond Creation, Fallujah, Virvum, Inanimate Existence

This one was a huge culture gap. The Zenith Passage is a name that’s been springing in and out of my sight for a good chunk of 5 years, maybe more. Ever since the world of tech-death opened itself to me, this band has been showing up on tour line-ups, lists of similar artists, online mentions and whatever other avenue of promotion there is, side by side with favourites of mine, like Beyond Creation or Inferi. So, when I became aware of the recent release of “Datalysium”, I knew it was time to finally fill up this void of curiosity. And damn, was I in for a treat.

As soon as I had sat through my first audition of the album, I knew it was gonna become another tech-death favourite for me, not only that, but I was willing to risk calling it the tech-death album of the year for 2023, a claim which I am even more confident with after several subsequent spins. But I’ll wait for Stortregn’s new album before fully deciding on that! So why is “Datalysium” such an extraordinary album? Well, there are many reasons, and most of them are complicated, so hold your horses as we dive in!

The first 2 things that strike the listener as soon as the album kicks off with the short but incredibly striking ‘The Axiom Error’, are the incredible production quality, and the unhuman technical skill. The production is as hi-fi and processed as it can get, reaching inhuman levels of clarity. Criticizing albums for being too overproduced is a common trope nowadays, but what defines good production is entirely dependent on the nature of the music and the message it aims to express. This album is unhuman, futuristic and obsessive as well as compositionally complex and crammed with a ton of details. Thus, everything must be easily differentiated and polished in order for the music to be coherent. Thankfully it is. But more than providing the clarity of the sound, the way this album is produced plays a huge role in the atmosphere it sets, because the weirdly electronic edge of the sound flows hand-in-hand with the sci-fi aesthetic and cognitively stimulating lyrics, to immerse the listener into a captivating experience.

The Zenith Passage – Lexicontagion

The technical prowess on all instruments is, like you would expect from a band in this genre niche, extreme. We’re looking at ridiculous drum blasting, constant running riffage and versatile bass parts in each song, all played with seamless fluidity and flawless precision. But it’s funny how the music doesn’t necessarily feel insane at all times. It has its balls to the wall moments of extremity, and it is overall a very heavy album. But the compositional intricacies, exciting rhythmic experimentation and melodic ingenuity are what really steals the show. This album managed to raise the bar for interesting and captivating writing just as high as it did for technical prowess. Apart from the blasting sections, which don’t make up too much of the album’s run time, the music is filled with groove, creating very infectious rhythms. In fact, even during the high-speed parts, there is at least one instrument that sets a groovy pace. On top of this, there are a lot of progressive elements. We often see tempo changes, either abrupt or gradual, as well as trippy rhythms, unexpected shifts and complex transitions. The puzzle of sonic temporal mathematics is very well connected to flow as one piece though, and none of these elements are excessively crammed or overdone. At least for a prog or tech-death listener, the album is easily engaging. Another thing I really like is that they know how to use empty space, be it through pauses or by stripping down certain elements of the music. While their full soundscape piles electronic samples and orchestral samples over a full band sound, they will often strip down the sampling, leaving only the band to play, and even go further to cut a certain instrument from certain parts, leaving only bass or only guitar for brief moments, or having them alternate. There are also very sliced riffs with interesting pauses, which can get you headbanging but are also tricky to follow at the same time (‘Divinertia I’ and ‘Divinertia II’ have many of these). The bass alternates between a very slappy sound on the highly rhythmic parts and a fluid, fretless sound on the fast or atmospheric parts (‘’). Sometimes it plays similarly to the guitars (though not exactly the same) while on other occasions it may be contrasting with them. Regardless, the bass is a unique voice in its own right, rather than an accompanying afterthought, and it sometimes even takes the complete spotlight (‘Automated Twilight’).

The Zenith Passage – Synaptic Depravation

The melodic component to the sound on “Datalysium” is also very eclectic and complex. There are lead guitar parts on all the songs, sometimes focused on speed and technicality (‘The Axiom Error’, ‘Synaptic Depravation’), while others are more fluid and bendy (‘Algorithmic Salvation’, ‘Automated Twilight’). The lead sections aren’t written on a steady backbone but rather on constantly evolving music, which enables them to constantly change and evolve, moving into an entirely different place than where they started (‘Deletion Cult’, ‘Datalysium’). Furthermore, a lot of the riffs carry a melodic edge, as if a theme is integrated in the riffage and can build a gray area between riffs and leads where rhythm and melody seem to fuse into one another. There is a moment in ‘Deletion Cult’ where the riffs section moves fluidly enough that it can be doubled by what could be described as a keyboard lead section, just by being played higher.

And that gets me to keyboards. I assume everything in terms of synth, electronic effects or orchestration on this album is sampled, as are the drums in fact, but that does not take away one bit from the expressive value, since “Datalysium” was clearly intended to sound mechanical. The keyboards put forward striking melodies with a tone that sounds slightly power metallish but doesn’t give that vibe at all (‘Deletion Cult’), or with a strange spacey, hypnotic vibe created through ingenious combinations of delay, reverb and modulation (‘Datalysium’). There are also orchestral layers used but they are not a major element in the sound. They come every now and then, either to set a menacing mood (‘Synaptic Depravation’ even has a pizzicato moment) or to grow the music to an epic scale with a cinematic edge (see keyboard swirls in ‘Automated Twilight’).

The Zenith Passage – Datalysium

The vocal performance is mostly monochrome growls with very articulate pronunciation and complex rhythmic patterns. It is almost written rhythmically as if it were another instrument. And normally, using only one vocal tone can get boring, but the variety of the instrumentals and the rhythmic aspect of the vocals as well as the lyrics prevent that from happening here. Despite that, there are moments of clean vocals and even some processed robotic vocals that push the sci-fi futuristic vibe even further (‘Automated Twilight’). On top of this, the lyrics use very complex wording to touch on topics like social contagions, psychological processes, misinformation and mass-society. The exact message isn’t clear but it does seem to be dealing with humanity’s self-destructive tendencies and how they can be molded or exacerbated by various circumstances such as technology. It also seems to look at these concepts from a philosophical lens with the closing track indicating that free will may be a mere illusion.

So, there you have it, “Datalysium” is one of the most complex, but at the same time one of the most creative and captivating works I’ve heard in tech-death, and it’s sure to end up really high on my year-end list! For all tech fans out there, this one simply can’t be overlooked!

Track List:

    1. The Axiom Error (02:27)
    2. Algorithmic Salvation (03:30)
    3. Lexicontagion (03:41)
    4. Synaptic Depravation (06:11)
    5. Deletion Cult (05:13)
    6. Divinertia I (05:15)
    7. Divinertia (05:23)
    8. Automated Twilight (07:01)
    9. Datalysium (07:01)

About the Author

Andrei Dan

Born and raised in Romania, currently living and studying in the Netherlands, Andrei was introduced to both classic and modern prog at once when he discovered Symphony X and Intervals in 2015. He has quickly grown fond of all the sub-categories of metal but keeps a focus on progressive or innovative music. Most of his free time is spent keeping track of new artists or releases and visiting concerts.

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