Since scenes are so amorphous, the number of adjectives, metaphors, and similes we can use to describe them is truly endless. One of the least used but most useful is that of a pool when a stone is dropped into it. The rings of water spreading out, their inevitable refraction on the edges of the pool, the way the water is the same and yet disturbed, all of these capture the ephemeral device known as “influence”. You know the feeling: one band in a scene does this thing (write a riff, sing a note, arrange an album, get an artist for their album art, and so on) and suddenly everyone within that scene is doing it. There’s no clear influence and yet, like the pool, everything is different, disturbed from its previous state of inertia.
What we need to watch for is those who break the pattern. Where the water rings out in a certain pattern, a rock submerged or a gust of wind (a different influence or a kind of inspiration, in our counterpart, musical scene) set them on a different direction, a different reaction to the stone dropping. Let’s make this concrete: a few years ago, it’s hard to say exactly when, a stone dropped into the scene of djent/progressive metalcore. It was a pretty big one since it was nothing less than the genre as a whole “dying”. Suddenly, the sounds and tones of the style fell out of mode and all of these bands, spurned by the fuel of their debut albums in most cases, suddenly had to find a new style. The water started ringing out and breaking in all too obvious patterns; dreamy electronics, indie influences, and an overall more ethereal atmosphere on the one hand and on the other, increasingly saccharine compositions and nu-prog influences started cropping up pretty much everywhere in djent.
Enter Unprocessed. This Germany based band has been music since 2014, when djent was already showing the signs of its demise. And yet, the band stuck to their guns, releasing album after album in the same style. Instead of veering off into atmospheric redundancy or into syrupy sweetness filled with nothing at all, they kept iterating and developing their style of djent. After long work, which included some excellent releases on their own, Unprocessed have arrived at Artificial Void, an album which, frankly, puts the rest of the djent scene to absolute shame. It shows that the problem was never with the genre itself; djent has some great ideas, mostly groove and a progressive potential that often goes untapped, and there’s a reason it was an extremely popular genre. It just needs innovation and unique voices, instead of bands jumping ship and looking for their and inspiration in places where, to be honest, they’re not really proficient.
Artificial Void brings that personal voice and innovation to djent in droves. It’s fueled by three sounds or approaches that coalesce beautifully into one whole. The first is the heavier side of things. When it wants to go, Artificial Void fucking goes. “Fear” is a good example of that. The track starts off with chugs that will set any djent-fan’s heart to peace, doubling down on these sounds throughout the track, belting out riff after riff, coupled with moving choruses which should make fans of Uneven Structure smile. Later on, things get even heavier with “Antler’s Decay”, a track possessing of harsh vocals and breakneck chords that wouldn’t put Meshuggah to shame (the beginning even echoes “Future Breed Machine” a bit). That’s mode number one: fast, heavy, chuggy djent backed by an irresistible groove and technical flair.
The second style is a softer one, going so far as to utilize very distortion light guitars. They’re not always fully acoustic, but they have an intentionally thin and light tone to them. These can be heard on “Ruins” for example, going off in the background of the track before later moving forwards to dominate the mix. What’s so great about these ideas is that they’re still playing groovy leads, sweeps, and what would otherwise be described as chugs (especially the bass). But instead of throwing a bunch of distortion and effects on them, Unprocessed lets their natural sound shine through. Throughout the album, these sounds are also accompanied by electronics, embellishing the overall sound and adding to it a futuristic, high-tech sound which works well with the album’s cover art and name. This style of playing is what makes Artificial Void unique; I haven’t heard anything quite like it for a long time.
And herein lies the rub: the third sound on the album is one which bridges the two we laid out above. It’s a kind of meta-sound which emerges from the two, pulling them together under one umbrella. It resides in the technicality which runs through the album; whether distorted, “natural”, lean, heavy, loud or quiet, the guitars are always intricate. Whether electronic, human, soft, or hard, the tracks are always complex but well composed, flowing into each other. At the end of the day, everything sounds like the same band is making the music, even though so many different styles and sounds are woven together. And this is where so many djent bands fall flat on their face; sure, they can play and they might even be able to write, but can they make something cohesive, that has personality? Unprocessed certainly can and in the zombie genre of djent, it is truly a breath of fresh air. All of this conspires to make Artificial Void one of the best albums of the year and certainly one of the best djent albums in years, one which is unafraid to play on the tropes of the genre but also inverse and innovate them where needed.
Artificial Void releases on the 9th of August, via Long Branch Records. You can, and should, pre-order it from the Bandcamp page above.