The proliferation of a metal band is a clear sign of its growing popularity, but it could also be a reason for apprehension regarding its music’s quality. On the other hand, one can consider the longevity of a given band as an indication of quality, but that would only cast a shadow of zealous snobbery and faux-refinement. Truth is, quality in music is more likely to be a function of countless random things including, but not limited to, personal taste. There are countless examples of bands exploding onto the international scene with superb debuts only to fizzle away later and become weaker shadows of themselves. On the other hand, there are bands who start off strong but are a work in progress in terms of finding their own sound and standing out from the hordes; Colorado’s Allegaeon is one fine example of the latter.
Having made an impressive debut with 2010’s Fragments of Form and Function, Allegaeon has slowly but surely refined its game with each release to become one of modern death metal’s most exciting acts. 2016 sees the release of their fourth and longest running full-length Proponent for Sentience. After the introduction of drummer Brandon Park and guitarist Michael Stancel on 2104’s Elements of the Infinite, this new album is the first to feature vocalist Riley McShane of Continuum and Son of Aurelius fame. McShane is quite the presence on this album, displaying his range of vocal abilities from ungodly screams to deep growls and even clean singing. The rest of the band is also in fine form, including of course founding members guitarist Greg Burgess and bassist Corey Archuleta.
The 72 minute journey starts with the first track of the sub-plot “Proponent for Sentience I – The Conception.” The epic introduction is made with a dramatic build up with the lead guitar and keyboards in the background – think Fleshgod Apocalypse meets Gothenburg melodeath. Next comes the album’s shortest and most straightforward cut “All Hail Science.” This one sings the praise of science and its influence on humanity since the dawn of civilization while unleashing a torrent chugging riffs and machine gun drumming. After building quite a bit of intensity, “Grey Matter Mechanics: Appassonata Ex Machinea” sees the band exploring their softer side through an emotive acoustic guitar segment that fuses brilliantly with the heavy riffing that follows.
A recurring musical element throughout this record that is consistently executed to perfection is the double guitar melody on top of thumping bass lines and solid drumming. This is featured on the likes of “From Nothing,” “Terrathaw and the Quake” and the opening track. It’s a sign of how important melody is as an element of Allegaeon’s writing. “Of Mind and Matrix,” for example, has a noticeable Swedish influence, almost paying homage to Dark Tranquillity at some parts. “The Arbiters” and “Demons of an Intricate Design” are also examples of the reliance on melody and using it to counter the heaviness of the main riffs, industrious drumming and powerful vocal delivery. The album’s various elements come together on the dramatic ending track “Proponent for Sentience III – The Extermination,” which features Soilwork’s infamous Björn Strid as a guest vocalist. The drama in the music is mirrored by the lyrics as humanity’s existence on earth is concluded with its obliteration and being described as a mere carbon plague.
Proponent for Sentience ends on a high note, whether you accept the perfectly executed cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions” to be a part of it or not. Needless to say, this death metal band managed to pay homage to the Canadian prog trio in elegant fashion by adding just enough of their own sound, namely heavy distortions and double bass drumming, while keeping the main elements of the song intact. This album is undoubtedly the best work Allegaeon has put to disc and it is a terrific refinement of their sound as a modern death metal band that seamlessly blends melody, technicality and sheer aggressiveness. The overarching lyrical concept adds depth and complexity to the listening experience while posing a few questions as well. This is an exemplary example of how far death metal has gone while proving that evolution can always lead to greener pastures.