Many genres have their own holy grails. “Weird tech death”, which can also be called avant-garde death metal, has a few such releases, but the one that is perhaps most untouched is Demilich’s 1993 masterpiece Nespithe. Artificial Brain’s 2014 debut release Labyrinth Constellation was a clear attempt at this throne, but it focused more on an old school death metal sound than the sheer weirdness. Enter Infrared Horizon, their sophomore release. Here we have a much more focused and experimental album that is closer to the prize than any other album has ever been, and it also happens to be a fantastic record.
From the very beginning, the album hits the listener with its bold statement. The atonal, irreverent anti-melodies in the vein of Gorguts are front and center now. The emphasis on a crusty sound with slower, muffled riffing is replaced with a more technical slant and clearer production. This immediately makes it clear that the band have a different goal for this album. In fact, the band seem much clearer with their intent and direction on Infrared Horizon. Whereas the debut felt like a solid death metal album with some quirks thrown in here and there to keep things interesting, their sophomore fully embraces the off-kilter elements as part of its foundation and builds from there. They don’t sound like a completely different band, but they sound like a much better version of themselves, an ideal only hinted at before.
The brilliance of Infrared Horizon lies in the band’s ability to take weird, disturbing and confusing riffs and turn them into memorable, distinctive melody lines that drive their songs. Too often do bands who push the boundaries of abrasiveness seem to forget that they’re actually supposed to be writing songs instead of holding jam sessions. While that approach has its appeal, it’s an almost entirely different ethos to what’s at play here. Artificial Brain know what they’re doing, and they’re very clever and good at it. Having a blast beat section that almost sounds like the drummer is slacking off, with trem picked guitars that rush ahead of the drums and guttural vocals is a premise that an unskilled band would botch, but here it’s nailed in the opener and they take ideas like this to their logical extreme. Counterpoint harmonies that push the boundaries of interplay between guitars, almost post-rock-like soundscape explorations that feel utterly alien, and many other bizarre musical motifs come together to make up a fascinating album. The production is great as well, pulling back the guitars a little bit and giving the vocals room to breathe, compared to the debut. Everything sounds minimal yet large, every articulation of guitar audible and every blast beat visceral but not overwhelming.
Artificial Brain already convinced us that they’re a good band, but with their sophomore release they stepped up to being a great band. Challenging the throne of death metal classics and walking away to tell the story is no small feat, and they do it in every riff, every moment on this album. Few albums blend the old school and modern of death metal so masterfully, and even fewer remain as experimental as this while still staying appealing. It may be too early in the year to call an album of the year, but no one could be faulted for doing so with Infrared Horizon.