Brain Tentacles is a three-year-old project with members from Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio. They recently signed to Relapse Records and worked on their self-titled debut album, to be released on September 30. The formation is similar in shape to Trioscapes: a trio comprising a saxophonist, a bassist, and a drummer. However, the comparisons stop there, as Brain Tentacles’ doomy, sludgy, saxophone-filled metal is far from the progressive fusion rock of Trioscapes.
They recently released a pretty psychedelic music video for the track “Fruitcake”, and as such, stands as the face of the record. It would be far-fetched to call this song progressive metal, and this applies to the rest of the album as well: the song’s short runtime, the lack of metric or melodic modulation, and the simplistic song structure all mean it doesn’t follow the staples of progressive metal music. Even the 9-minute song on record is much more like an extended doom song than a progressive metal song, and the last, 12-minute song includes almost 8 minutes of audio excerpt. The “experimental” and “avant-garde” tags can technically be kept because of the instances of improvisation and the uncommon instrumentation, but don’t expect anything too far out of the ordinary. While I still haven’t written on the quality of the music itself, the album’s promotion and categorization has been rather flawed, promising something that this is clearly not.
Now, what if, for a moment, we let aside these expectations and take the music for what it is? First of all, it’s really loose, in that the musicians don’t always strive to be mechanically on time, or in tune when it comes to vocals. Don’t worry, most of it is pretty tight, there’s just an organic, human element to it, which is rather nice to hear. The work of the saxophone is, for the most part, pretty good. It shines most when it comes time to solo, with fast-paced improvisation, but becomes rather bland and lifeless during riffs. “The Sadist” is the first song that has been released, you might be a bit surprised, at first, by the presence of sax and stampeding blast beats, but it only takes a couple of repeats before growing used to – and bored of – the sax and bass riff that seems never-ending. The bass is usually rife with distortion, which helps fill the melodic spectrum and fill the void left by the guitars in the timbral department, but it also muddies the bass lines a lot. For the most part, it’s fine because they are very simple, but when they get more intricate, they lack any definition. The saxophone too seems to enjoy the pleasures of effect pedals, and this might also add to the problem.
Production-wise, the instruments are well-balanced. I guess it’s not too hard, since they only have three – four, including the voice – to deal with. Nonetheless, the music often peaks, which gives some undesirable digital distortion to the whole thing when there’s more action, and the compression seems to act weird from time to time (notice the snare on “The Spoiler”). The album would definitely benefit from a more clement and clearer production.
Overall, Brain Tentacles is a decent sludge album, but the saxophone is its main attraction. It’s uncommon for the genre, but not novel, as others have done it before, like Mombu (and to much better results). If straightforward music is what you’re looking for, you might have a great time with Brain Tentacles, but if you’re looking for something slightly more varied and musically challenging, it’s an album to forget.