The semantic field which lies between the Gothic, the future, metal, and the avant-garde is fertile with meaning. First, the Gothic, which we define here as the literary or “artistic” Gothic. It’s a sub-genre or modifier which deals with death, anxiety, and the body. Frankenstein is of course the prime example but they abound. In the Gothic, the body is vulnerable to outside invasion, colonization, and modification and that fact worries us and captures our imagination at the same time. This feeds directly into our imagination of the future, which tends to focus in many cases on bodies, especially artificial or modified ones; the cyborg, the android, the augmented. These ideas worry us: we are concerned of losing our mortality, of being outdone by post-humans, of becoming monsters beyond space and time. But these ideas also fascinate us: we dream of travelling the stars in our invulnerable bodies, of being faster and stronger, of possessing un-imagined beauty.
Metal has fed on these ideas but hasn’t quite captured the neurotic anxiety and craving that these ideas stir in us. Usually, augmented bodies from the future in metal are either bad guys to be fought or incredible potential for the liberation of mankind. That hybridity, the ambiguous fear-desire we feel towards a Gothic future in which we are all beautiful monsters, usually falls short of metal’s grasp. Enter the avant-garde. What better sub-genre of metal and, specifically, black metal, than the avant-garde to explore these complex ideas? Lychgate‘s Also sprach Futura is perfect proof of this. Channeling their already unsettling sound through a lens of futuristic, faintly Gothic, imminently cyberpunk aesthetics, the band create a kind of desired nightmare, a world of shadows and potential that evokes the very specific kind of anxiety which the heady mix of the ideas presented above incites within us.
Just listen to the first track, “Incarnate”, and, specifically, those organs. Those devilish organs! They’re so loud and fast, keeping up pace with the blistering black metal riffs even as they reach their full swing. These sounds contribute immensely to that feeling of anxiety I described above; everything feels close, closing its claws around you. But the crashing of the guitars and the drums also has a sense of the majestic to it, like a city unfurling up into the night. You fear it, it holds danger, but it’s also strangely alluring. When the vocals arrive, faintly machine-like in their quality and timbre and oh so deep, the dark image has been painted. The track sounds like the album art, dark, occult, futuristic, unsettling.
Nor does the album relent. “Progeny of the Singularity” continues with those same synths, the guitars feeding into their drama while the drums continue to etch out the main pace of the track. The riffs which start around the one and a half minute mark are some of the best on the album, their agility and expression drawing from “classical” black metal ideas but, as always, distorted through the lens of those damnable synths. It will take five full minutes before the quieter stretches of “Simulacrum”, wherein the bass gets its moments in the inverted, black, digital sun, allow you some measure of breath. But even there, the tension is maintained by the abrasive screams which scorch the back of the mix, before one of the most Gothic moments on Thus sprach Futura, with the organs blaring into a moment’s silence to announce the track’s outro.
That “out of breath” feeling is further maintained and amplified by the fact that the album is so short. To be honest, twenty minutes is the perfect run-time for music of this sort; before your ears tire out, before your stomach can acclimate to what’s happening, the album is over with a gasp. You feel immediately drawn back to because it is over, because you have a choice to play it again, rather than its musical ideas overstaying their welcome. Also sprach Futura, because of many things other than its run-time, like its cover art, tones, composition and structure, is a whirlwind of an album. It invokes that desire, that fear, that anxiety towards the future and our existence within it that Gothic works so often do and does it damn well. In fact, it does better than almost anything else which I’ve heard operate in these semantic spaces. Nietzsche would have been proud.
Also sprach Futura sees release next week, on March 13th. You can, and should, head on over to the band’s Bandcamp to pre-order it.