If you look at the top of this page, you will find a reference to the old adage “less is more.” The phrase came from the minimalist art movement and is still a common saying in many areas of art and design. In music, it usually describes how an album can be improved by removing songs or song sections that don’t add anything to the album as a whole, leaving the bloat on the cutting room floor. Here at Angry Metal Guy Universal Enterprises, we’re big fans of the principle; we don’t have a 45 Minute Rule for nothing. Allegaeon, being top-class musicians, of course know all about such basic rules of composition. They just don’t give a fuck.
It could have been so beautiful. Proponent for Sentience contains a fat slab of melodic death metal of the Gothenburgian school, with the most obvious influence Dark Tranquillity. The album implements the style by managing to sound both massive and light on its feet, like a runaway locomotive with the agility of a sports car. This is possible thanks to a cast blessed with incredible talent. I was not sarcastic referring to the band as top-class musicians; the guitar-work alone is mindblowing, switching effortlessly from sweeping technical solos to pulsing rhythmic blasts and back, sounding tight and fierce at all times. The drums are fast and precise, a pummeling force that spurs the songs on, as if they literally whip the other musicians into a foaming frenzy. The vocals are smooth and varied, the deeper growls reminding pleasantly of Dan Swanö. “Proponent to Sentience part III” even sports guest vocals from Soilwork’s leading man Björn Strid to great effect, injecting extra variety into the onslaught. It’s the most emotional moment on the album, but it’s definitely not the only winner. “All Hail Science” is an adrenaline pumping burst of Swedish death metal, and subsequent track “From Nothing” has a thick and infectious groove that will cause a lot of snapping necks. The scientific lyrics are a refreshing change of tune compared to the usual sociopolitical philosophical fare Gothenburgers often default to.
But though Allegaeon‘s vocabulary of long and difficult words is extensive, it does not contain “pruning” or “self-editing.” Proponent clocks in at an exhausting 72 minutes; a length hard to justify even for traditionally long-winded genres like prog metal. On a primarily guitar-centered, high octane melodeath disc, it becomes a downright chore long before it’s over. I usually start craving something different halfway through “Terrathaw and the Quake,” and I’ll still have half an hour to go. Many songs are bloated like a three week old beached whale; for instance, “Proponent to Sentience part II” spends half the running time stuck in the same tepid riff. Neither “Cognitive Computations” nor “Demons of an Intricate Design” do anything really interesting, and the Rush cover “Subdivisions” takes the prize for most useless afterthought of a song to close a metal album this year. The original’s dynamics and subtleties are smashed to bits and the high school conformity lyrics stand in stark and awkward contrast to the intellectualism preceding it.
And yet, none of these are quite as insulting as “Grey Matter Mechanics” with its three-minute exercise in Spanish guitar picking that brings the album to a screeching halt. At least I can understand the bad idea of refusing to prune music you wrote, rehearsed and put your heart and soul into. I can understand trying to epic things up with orchestral intros, even though it further bloats the album and has no effect whatsoever. But if you’re not capable of enough self-reflection to decide your 72 minute freight train of a metal album doesn’t need a full song’s worth of flamenco picking, you are utterly blind to your own shortcomings.
Which brings me to the final nail in the coffin: for the mastering process the album has been tied to the front of a Volvo and driven straight into a brick wall. Any and all subtleties drown in a homogeneous blob of loudness, making absolutely sure that any point the symphonic sections and the Spanish guitar had is completely erased. Allegaeon‘s last album was featured in Worst Sounding Albums of the Year, which clearly taught them nothing whatsoever. Proponents could have been miraculous. It should have been. But all the talent in the world can’t make up for such an appalling lack of self-reflection. Normally, a bad album is just bad, you shrug and move on, but this flagrant waste of an enormous amount of potential made me a very angry metal guy.