I like my death metal bleak and abrasive, dissonant and depressing, and full of sound and fury. Whether it signifies anything is irrelevant. But I wasn’t always like this, there were days when the young Kronos thought All That Remains was pretty damn heavy, had never heard of grindcore and had yet to utter the phrase “not brutal enough.” The end of those dark, or rather, inappropriately bright, times came when a friend introduced me to Dark Tranquillity. After that taste, I dove deep into Gothenburg style melodic death, fell head over heels through it and landed somewhere in the cosmic sea of extreme music. Needless to say, I still have a soft spot for melodeath, and these Swedes are poised to hit it. After their respectable début Antichthon, Planet Rain and their ultra-melodic death metal are back with the second instalment in their planned album trilogy, The Fundamental Principles, which if precedent is trusted should be a fun ride.
“On Darkling Plains” opens triumphantly with a dramatic and enveloping melody, serving as a portent for things to come. Its energetic riffing is by no means spectacular, but the force behind it is nothing to sneer at, providing enough power to make this lengthy track feel quite a lot snappier than it is. “Fluxus” continues this power, with a wide open chorus, a succinct but impressive guitar solo, and buzzing synths covering the ending melody. It’s formulaic, especially in its paint-by-numbers mid-tempo opening riff, but it is again played so energetically and has such prominent melodies that I really can’t fault it. The sonic themes presented by these tracks are compounded upon continuously over the rest of the album, and the band’s energy never drains, which is crucial for fast-paced melodic tracks like these.
Planet Rain would seem to have everything in order. Their melodies are catchy and triumphant, and each song has a unique character and is played with intensity. Technically all of their bases are covered, but something crucial is lacking. As fun and catchy as The Fundamental Principles is, it feels a bit bland as a whole. There are few shifts in tone or feel throughout the album since everything is engineered to sound like the victory of some cosmic war. This works very well for the tracks individually but there isn’t the same variety of sounds or emotional depth that made Antichthon a good album. I’m fine with a lack of brutality, but these tracks lack variety. The only song that sounds very menacing at all is the closer “Shockwave,” but it’s too little too late.
The saving grace for this album is without doubt its energetic performances. Tommy Holmer exudes power behind the kit but never steals the show, leaving the guitars to carry the meat of each anthem. There’s no shortage of speed, especially on “Shockwave” and the more driving sections of “Solstorm”, and the guitar solos, though sparse, consistently pack in a whole lot of notes. “The Worlds We Devour” has a nice take on the dual guitar solo that is such an important hallmark of Swedish melodeath. The mix is pretty standard; the bass is a bit neglected but suitably audible, vocals sit on top and the guitars vie for second place with the frequently used choral/symphonic/electronic elements. This arrangement makes the music easy to follow and magnifies the melodies, so it serves the album very well stylistically, despite sounding far too slick for a respectable death metal band.
While The Fundamental Principles is an engaging listen, its entirety is swept from one’s memory as soon as “Shockwave” fades out. In the moment, it’s fun, but looking back over it, the album as a whole is homogeneous and forgettable. The tracks are triumphant, often pompously so, which makes me wonder what exactly is being triumphed over. Ultimately, it’s struggle and hardship that are interesting, not the happiness afterwords, and struggle is something melodeath is well-suited for dealing with. Planet Rain have utterly neglected to make The Fundamental Principles interesting, which is a shame, since it’s obvious given their last album that they are perfectly capable of doing so. No matter how much energy goes into each song, this album can’t be saved.