A hacky joke that everyone can relate to is the excruciating process of picking a restaurant with a woman who’s okay with “anywhere.” “No, I don’t feel like tacos.” “No, I had red meat two days ago and that’s a steakhouse.” “We went there two months ago, I want something new.” “It’s not called ‘The B.K. Lounge,’ it’s Burger King, and we’re not going there.” Repeat ad infinitum, or at least ad fame. Before we get too comfy on our high horse (or eat it on a pizza, which is shockingly delicious), metalheads generally are the same way. “This death metal is too slammy.” “This death metal is too melodic.” “This death metal is too dissonant.” “This death metal is too simplistic.” “This death metal is way too technical.” Repeat ad infinitum, or until you just give up and listen to The Bleeding again instead.
Ad Patres are a death metal band that, to my ears, most people would want to listen to. They take the streamlined aggression of Kataklysm circa the classic Epic: The Poetry of War and commingle it with the Morbid Angel strains that developed into Hate Eternal’s post-King of All Kings sound and Behemoth’s shift to death metal. This has the effect of appealing to a lot of potential fans. It also has the effect of changing each of their influences’ sounds significantly, the musical equivalent of throwing strawberries and a banana into a blender. For A Brief Introduction to Human Experiments to work, you must like the basic taste of strawberries and bananas and be indifferent to their shape and texture. A contemporary French band I was reminded of was Hysteria, but Ad Patres focuses less on melo-death tropes than those guys.
I would first commend Ad Patres for their concept here. To me, this is the best part of the record. While I disagree with the finer points of their concept, painting psychology and the scientism which enables it as a new (secular) religion is heady stuff for a death metal band, and instead of just attacking Christianity incessantly like Extreme Metal Product #32456097, something interesting is done. The music does nothing new but does plenty interesting. “The Disappearance of I” has a solid but unremarkable Hate Eternal-meets-Hate riff as recurring theme, but Ad Patres adds a harmony on top in the last measure reminiscent of Kataklysm that sets it apart from the pack. These little details animate and elevate what sounds at first blush like a standard death metal record. “Symbiosick” is an obvious highlight, with guitars panned hard left and hard right weaving and intertwining together to make something difficult to keep up with. Where Ad Patres does especially well is in the fact that I was engaged and eager to try and parse what each instrumentalist was doing. The standout lead work helps the song as well.
I’m left with a record I don’t feel like nitpicking flaws on but which I know isn’t top tier death metal. There’s an intangible factor missing here—perhaps it lies in the production, which is great for hearing how talented Ad Patres is but errs too much on the clinical side for the heavier aspects to be truly effective. “Spellbound” picks things up, simplifying ever so slightly but focusing on riffs. Every time I hear it, that raw power the best death metal has is there. Every time I hear it, I think I’m just not getting it in the other songs. Yet every time I revisit the other songs, I can’t force that aggression, that elan, to come. I want to, believe me, I want to… but it is not to be.
I’m left with a record where nitpicking flaws is an exercise in pointlessness, as there’s nothing obviously wrong here. This is good, smart death metal played by talented musicians. There are moments of scattered greatness here, and interestingly the B-side is better than the A-side by a noticeable margin. I like Ad Patres and A Brief Introduction to Human Experiments is worth a few good, uninterrupted listens. I can’t see anyone who likes death metal actively disliking this, but I can see some being unenthusiastic. I’m more than unenthusiastic, for sure; I’m just not totally smitten.