There’s a LOT of metal that takes its influence from space, from a conceptual, musical, or aesthetic standpoint, across every genre. Deathcore band Aversions Crown, for instance, holds down the heavy side of the fort with their neck-snapping grooves and grim ambience, all while their vocalists growl ruminations on planet-scale annihilation and reawakening alien gods; the techdeath giants of The Faceless play it much more fast and loose on their space-metal-defining Planetary Duality, opting to portray the idea of space musically with creepily dissonant, jazzy interludes and heavy usage of tools like vocoders.
No matter how a band does it, at the end of the day, there’s one concept that is hugely important to spacey metal: the atmosphere. It’s unbelievably tough to nail the intensely huge environment that is the great beyond, and although there are many ways to go about it, at the end of the day, it either works or it doesn’t. If it works, the album feels enormous in scope, grand, and has a foreboding sense of total awe to it. If it doesn’t, the music in question typically ends up feeling sparse, empty, bleak: still spacey, but in a way that doesn’t engage the listener at all.
There are very few albums that manage to still be interesting and engaging on some level while not quite grasping the atmospheric component entirely, and it’s here where Fractal Generator’s debut, Apotheosynthesis, lies on the scale. It’s not a particularly quantifiable way to think of it (for how can an album that sells itself as ‘atmospheric death metal’ not be atmopsheric but still good?) , but it can be easily broken down into a series of components that explain where this album works and where it doesn’t.
First off, the performances on this album are great. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s executed with such aplomb that one can’t help but nod along with and get into it: the drums pound with the staggering ferocity and locked-in timing of artillery, the guitars and bass are fast and rip holes into the listener’s ear with their powerful attack, and the vocal performance harkens back to the greats of the 90’s and early 2000’s with its rawness. The synths are good, when they’re audible, but unfortunately, that’s a fairly rare occurrence. The riffs are well-written, even though they occasionally blend into each other. Songwriting wise, this is a very consistent album: nothing on this album feels uncomfortably bad, but on the other hand, nothing stands out as mind-blowingly good. The eight-minute closer, “Reflections”, sees the band slowing down a bit to deliver some grim groovage, but here too there’s nothing particularly outside of what’s to be expected. But, nevertheless, the riffs all feel right, and this is a rock-solid album in terms of the instrumental and vocal performances.
The real killer here is the production: for an album that wants so heavily to be atmospheric, there’s pretty much nothing to that end on Apotheosynthesis. The synths sit way too far in the back of the mix, and the guitars are too distorted to really have any of the necessary sheen to them. It doesn’t make too much of an impact on the album, but a listener going in with any expectations of actual atmosphere and ambience is going to be taken aback by what this album really is.
With better production, Apotheosynthesis could be a pretty decent atmospheric, spacey death metal album. But, right now, it’s a solid, well-executed death metal album that goes down smooth, but leaves little lasting impression. There’s a lot of genius in the rough demonstrated here, and their second crack at an LP could be an incredible and defining moment for Fractal Generator. Definitely one to listen to for those who are into straightforward death metal, but for the rest, it’s enough to just keep these guys on the back burner.
Fractal Generator – Apotheosynthesis gets…