Album: Mechanically Consumed (2017)
Genre: Prog/death metal
Where to buy: Bandcamp (drops 22 June 2017!)
The rise of recorded music did not give birth to the idea of standard versions of songs, but it certainly helped to accelerate their development, particularly in the popular culture. Though music has always been comfortable with fostering as many versions of a tune as there are performers, the twentieth century saw even folk music undergo a sort of canonization process. Some tunes have been able to resist mass media’s effort to standardize – “Amazing Grace” is one example that springs readily to mind. But the ubiquity of specific versions of songs is a distinctly modern phenomenon, and we all think of, say, Pete Seeger’s or Johnny Cash’s versions of “John Henry” when we think of the song. The speed at which standardization propagates has only increased in our lifetime; you may remember when U2 joined with Apple to automatically add one of their albums to every iPhone library back in 2014 (the bastards). The effect of all this is the creation of two distinct musical categories: canonical (official, sanctioned, can be purchased with a click) and profane (unofficial, untrustworthy, not able to be bought on iTunes).
And yet, for as much as the internet has been an agent of mass media’s quest for musical singularity, it is also the greatest tool musicians have for resisting these pressures. In just the last few decades innumerable genres of music have been born, lived, evolved, and died, progeny of the internet age and distributed without regard for mass media conglomerates. The chiptunes of the 90s are an illustrative example, and today vaporwave is having its moment, to name just two. These are genres extremely comfortable with a certain amount of ephemerality. Metal, by contrast, is not comfortable with transience, except as a lyrical theme about life and its impermanence. Very few metal songs lend themselves to interpretation by multiple artists, and though covers are common, the genre is very author-oriented and original artists are always part of the inevitable conversation, to wit, “Whose version was better?” It is unlikely, for example, that any band will ever record a version of “Iron Man” that surpasses the original in ubiquity. So it’s a breath of fresh air to find a metal band that is so comfortable with multiple interpretations of their songs that they are releasing two versions of the same album, one with vocals, and one without.
Next month, Denver’s Apotheon will give us Mechanically Consumed, their second release in as many years. Because vocalist Reece Deeter, of Vale of Pnath, is not always able to perform with Apotheon, the album will be released in two versions, one which features his guttural growls and one completely sans lyrics. This is a bold move and I applaud Apotheon’s decision to send two versions of Mechanically Consumed into the world, even if the decision is one of necessity. The album is distinctly proggy, and only becomes death metal when Deeter’s vocals are added to the mix. Both versions of the album feature clean, warm, modern production values, rapidly shifting tempos and meters, virtuosic guitar and bass riffs, and enough rapid-fire drumming to punch holes in the nearest drywall.
The opening track, “Premonition,” sets a complex stage. It is actually an instrumental on both versions of the album, and right away introduces us to Apotheon’s love of uncommon time signatures and huge distortion. There is a moment about two-thirds of the way through the song when the distortion and drums give way to a synthesized clavier and violin that take us into an unusual breakdown, before giving way to the seven-minute-plus “Tyken’s Rift,” which features Fernando del Valle’s seven-string guitar in the spotlight. He clearly has a lot of fun laying down the riffs that drive the piece, and when Deeter’s vocals are added, we learn that the fun is Star Trek-inspired. (The title and lyrics refer to the Enterprise’s largely cerebral drama in “Night Terrors,” a fourth season episode of The Next Generation. Fans of the show will note the transporter sound at the start of the music video above.)
The last two tracks on the album speak to the main theme running through Mechanically Consumed. Both the title track and “The Flesh Machine” build on the quick riffs and buffeting percussion of the album, and now add to that questions about the essence of humanity. Where do we draw the lines between machine and organism? How do we define human, in an age where technology is increasingly a part of our lives and our bodies? It is no coincidence that “The Flesh Machine” quotes a line from Westworld: “The divine gift does not come from a higher power but from our own minds.” These are provocative questions and they spur heady conversations. I recommend listening to both versions of the album with a friend who is interested in these kinds of conversations. Just make sure they can pass a Turing test first.
Mechanically Consumed drops on 22 June 2017.