Of all the bands I love, Artificial Brain is the one that has taken me the longest to wrap my head around. As someone who prefers the more freewheeling skronkfests of avant-garde death metal, Artificial Brain’s steadier, more nuanced approach to the genre was lost on me. Yet it always felt like I was missing something obvious with the band, like a lost puzzle piece smothered between couch cushions. When premier single “Celestial Cyst” dropped, I had an epiphany: Artificial Brain are playing at a scale far beyond human comprehension. The band’s music feels like depicting galactic warfare, but there’s no glory found in the destruction. Its view is a top-down perspective, where fiery explosions appear as minor blips, and all that’s left to do is pray for the loss of life both corporeal and mechanical.
Examining their album covers gives clues to how their world building manifests sonically. Labyrinth Constellation’s grimy robotic skirmish on floating rocks is a perfect representation of Artificial Brain’s hectic yet laser-focused songwriting; it’s as fully realized a debut as you can find. Infrared Horizon depicts the aftermath with a robot cradling the decapitated friend of the same model, foreshadowing the black metal influence creeping forward. For their newest record, depicted with a rusted spider mech covered in moss, the production has gotten a lot murkier and muddier than previous outings. While it might not have the same frayed electrical wire crispness of Constellation or Horizon, there are a lot of little touches here that go a long way to building a unique atmosphere. My favorite detail is the PANG-y brutal death metal snare that pops in frequently, like a ramshackle machine making excessive noise and discharging bolts as it moves. Guest spots and non-traditional metal instruments add a lot of color to the album, ranging from vocal features by Mike Browning of Nocturnus A.D. and Luc Lemay of Gorguts to producer Colin Marston unleashing his warr guitar on “A Lofty Grave”, in what sounds like sparks flying off malfunctioning circuitry. Even the core band members are getting in on the fun. With guitarist John Locastro’s saxophone solo in the outro to “Tome of the Exiled Engineer” and bassist Samuel Smith’s subtle synth placement, Artificial Brain are heightening the blend of cacophony and melancholy that made the band stand out in 2010s extreme metal.
It should be noted that this is the final Artificial Brain record to feature main vocalist Will Smith, who will move on to continue his work with fellow New York sci-fi brutal death metal influenced band Afterbirth, among other fine acts. Considering the consistency and technical skill of the band I’m sure their next record will be on equal footing to the rest of their discography, but Will’s belched vocal inflection was a key component to what makes Artificial Brain unique. One of death metal’s most overlooked traits is its ability to conjure vivid textures, albeit textures designed to discomfort and nauseate. What makes Artificial Brain special is how much nuance they’re able to communicate within the language of death metal. Will’s gurgles abstract the emotions lurking since this band’s inception, and when that alienating exterior is exposed you discover its jaded yet mournful world with an extensive history to it. Despite Dan Gargiulo, John Locastro, and Oleg Zalman’s guitar lines sprouting off into multiple directions and Keith Abrami’s pummeling percussion, there’s a level of grace in how the band flows between moods. The future for the remaining quintet remains hazy, but if their self-titled is anything to go by, Artificial Brain aren’t afraid of challenging themselves, both instrumentally and emotionally. Farewell to the wobbling sun. – DavidYowi