More than perhaps in any other genre of music, the potential for exploration, innovation, and experimentation in metal is limitless. Whether it’s a focus on the seamless melding of metal subgenres into new and exciting forms or the constant push of metal’s thematic heart and soul into bold horizons, this particular style of music is rife with examples of bands molding and reshaping the genre into a new image. It’s invigorating and exciting to behold. But in this brave new world of metallic exploration, few are pushing the metal envelope like Spain’s Inhumankind in their debut record, Self-Extinction. Mainly because, quite frankly, they don’t really play metal at all. Consisting of the dynamic duo of Pablo Selnik on flute and Alex Reviriego performing double bass, the band play a fusion of jazz, avant-garde, choral arrangement, and black/death metal that is exactly as unique and odd as it sounds. More than any album I have heard in the past few years, Self-Extinction is a visceral head-trip that is as bold and innovative as it is bizarre and unusual. It’s also brilliant, and more than worth the time it will take to uncover its multitudinous riches.
The first of the numerous gems to be found in Self-Extinction is the overwhelming influence of producer Colin Marston, he of Krallice, Gorguts, and Dysrhythmia fame. Compositions of this deceitfully complex nature couldn’t be fully realized without a wizard behind the board, and Marston’s skill at creating soundscapes that snap with unique clarity is put to extremely effective use here. The dueling flute and bass performances never once drown one another out, instead finding themselves contorting, warping, and coiling around one another in a sonically crystal clear ballet that will most certainly be long considered a large feather in Marston’s already overstuffed cap. But amazing production quality is only as good as the music it serves, and by god is the music here worth the effort.
The record kicks off with “Double-Headed King”, which is executed with obscene precision. While the instruments are nowhere close to traditional metal fare, the composition itself utilizes a few easily recognizable metal tropes, particularly for those familiar with dissonant black and death metal. Selnik’s flute blisters through several melodic passages in a manner that could easily be compared to the tremolo picked guitar that serves as a staple of black metal in particular. Riviriego’s bass work propels itself forward in a similar (though instrumentally, when compared to metal, more traditional) fashion, working with the flute to create a sparse and complex track that ends far too soon. All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the vocals yet. Consisting of Celeste Alias and Marta Valero’s angelic and majestic choral arrangements and Moonloop’s Eric Baule offering guttural growls that serve to heighten the metallic components of the track, the vocals are no less fascinating than the instrumentation, which is most certainly saying something. It’s an utterly mesmerizing opening to an album that becomes no less complex, interesting, or vital as its tracks briskly pass.
Subsequent track “Annihilation of All Inferior Thought-Forms” presents a rich amalgam of death metal and free jazz components coupled with processed, alien-sounding vocals that are discombobulating and fantastic. The closing seconds of the track also include a bowed (rather than the typically plucked) double bass section that is conjoined with Alias and Valero’s soothing and haunting hums that completely alter the initial trajectory of the track in a manner that doesn’t feel jarring or random, transforming it into something even more melodically rich. Baule’s harsh vocals get their time to shine most prominently in “Against All Odds”, which features in its middle section some vocal work that could have been pulled directly from the Second Wave. Jazz elements overwhelm “Land of the Shells”, while the bands more classical bent is made explicit during “Blue Skin”, as Selnik and Riviriego share in a gorgeous dance of simply presented yet intricately composed harmony until the band’s avant-garde leanings consume the track’s latter half. Marston even gets in on the instrumental mix as well during the tracks orgasmic finale “Eternal Sleep”, providing some bizarre percussion work that adds to the mania of the piece perfectly. The unique cornucopia of sounds and textures contained on this record are undersold on paper, as the line-up here is relatively small and the album’s length surprisingly short. But rest assured that the music contained within is as odd and enchanting as you would imagine a conflagration of styles and musicians like this to be. It’s a stellar work performed by stellar musicians who play to their compositional and practical strengths throughout.
Metal has made boundary pushing a hallmark of its evolution as a genre. Interestingly enough, an album that contains no traditional metal instrumentation whatsoever serves as one of the most stirring recent examples of the genre’s ability to find value and utility in numerous musical styles outside its own. Self-Extinction is a transcendent record that exemplifies what metal and modern music are and can be. A brilliantly performed and beautifully written gem of a record not to be missed by fans of jazz, avant-garde, metal, or classical music.
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Self-Extinction is out now through the incomparable I, Voidhanger Records, and is available for purchase in physical and digital formats at the band’s Bandcamp page.