Cyberpunk is a genre that isn’t often plumbed by the metal world. When it comes to fantasy, it’s usually wizards slaying dragons and such. A couple of bands have meddled with these themes or aesthetics, but Switzerland’s Sybreed take it to a whole new level. Hell, just look at that cover art (by Seth of Septic Flesh)! Between the nihilistic, existential and metaphysical nature of their lyrics is a rigid, mechanical outer shell covering a richly textured electronic soul. The robotic construct created by the Swiss foursome holds a palpable and unique atmosphere in the modern metal landscape.
Their latest album, God is an Automaton, is their first release in three years and it appears these three years were well spent. Compared to 2009’s The Pulse of Awakening, the general feel of the album is richer, thicker and more textured than before (just compare the single version of “Challenger” versus the album version). When the album opener, “Posthuman Manifesto” locks in, it’s like a kick in the chest. Not just in the production, but in the weaving of angular riffing and melody. One of my biggest criticisms of modern metal bands straddling the lines of djenty rhythms and melodic passages is that they don’t flow well; it’s either one or the other throughout a song and I start to wish they would just make up their minds. Sybreed on the other hand flow effortlessly between crunchy djentfests and remarkably catchy choruses. The first half of the album showcases this more natural approach to songwriting.
Another thing that makes Sybreed stand out for me is the subtle use of electronics, courtesy of industrial music institution, Rhys Fulber. There is just the right amount of keyboard pads or small synth runs that keep the melody interesting and thanks to Fulber’s input, the songs often feel a lot more complex and layered than they would without them. “The Line of Least Resistance” has an instantly memorable keyboard stab and the vocoder vocals in the bridge are simultaneously unexpected and welcome. On the subject of vocals, Benjamin Nominet has really stepped up his game on God is an Automaton. The balance between screams and cleans is effective and the aforementioned vocoder and a couple of more deathy growls give great texture to the album. I mentioned the sing-a-long nature of the choruses, but that hinges heavily on whether you can hit the notes. There are some great vocal gymnastics here and like the music, the jump never feels jarring or forced.
I will say that the first half of the album is the real stand out. After the lull created by the title track, “Hightech Versus Lowlife” and “Downfall Inc,” there is a brief burst of energy from “Challenger” before things start to wane a little. I really like an album to keep my attention the whole way through, and God is an Automaton just loses me completely after this point. The last three songs are good and have some great moments, especially the guitar shredfest and film score-like ending of the final track, but the relentless pummeling riffs become a bit much after a while. Pummeling is definitely the word to use, since almost every guitar note is punctuated by a kick of the bass drum. This does a great job of accentuating the notes, especially the more Meshuggah-ish riffing, but it really feels like a one-trick pony by this point in the album.
It feels like Sybreed really pushed the envelope with God is an Automaton, and considering the rotation that it’s had on my playlist in the past few weeks, I’m certainly not bored by the whole package (just those last few songs). Maybe even if the structure of the songs was shifted around so the dip in energy wasn’t all concentrated into the middle it would have held my attention longer, but that’s a minor gripe in the face of the eleven tracks contained within. It seems Sybreed are only really hitting their stride now and if the energy, production standard and songwriting effort sticks for future albums, the sky is certianly the limit!