Ever watch that movie trailer that IBM’s Watson created? Or have you read those AI-generated inspirational quotes? You know, the ones like “seek success, but prepare for vegetables” or “before inspiration comes the slaughter?” Our eventual overlords may be capable of incredible feats of logic and science, but they are still in their infancy when it comes to matters pertaining to the human heart. There’s something about how humans process emotional cues and meaning that the machines haven’t mastered and it shows when they’re tasked with creative work. Now, this is a metal blog, so you can probably guess where I’m going with this. What would it sound like if AI were to create a metal album to be marketed to the masses?
I think it would sound a lot like The Order of the Silver Compass, the debut album from Los Angeles band Athanasia. The album features former Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Caleb Bingham and promises “anthemic stadium metal hooks with elements of Bay Area thrash and Scandinavian black metal.” But rather than some awesome combination of Testament and Immortal, what we have here hits more like a watered down mixture of Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, and Breaking Benjamin. If a computer has generated this album, it might be an entertaining novelty, but if actual humans were involved, it makes The Order of the Silver Compass unforgivable.
The album begins with some good finger-picked guitar with a moody spoken word sample. The AI (or band) that designed the album picked all the classic metal samples to introduce songs and seems to have generated names for them as well: industrial machine and hammering sound on “The Bohemian,” tank sounds on “Mechanized Assault,” and an air raid siren on “Nightmare Sound.” “Read Between the Lines” is a progressive chugfest as the song moves from one boring chug to the next and even includes some 808 drops. Bingham’s vocals are a mixture of Manson, Corey Taylor, and Dave Mustaine if that makes any sense, and he throws in some death growls and blackened shrieks at times as well. “Cyclops Lord” includes some minor chords in an attempt to sound like the promised black metal, but it just ends up sounding like moody 2000’s hard rock. Some generic thrash riffs appear on “Mechanized Assault” and the embedded title track, and while this amounts to being essentially metalcore, it’s a nice respite from the one-note chugging that infests most of the album. Closing track “White Horse” is a power ballad that unwisely showcases Bingham’s shaky singing voice, but it inexplicably became my favorite track.1
While The Order of the Silver Compass is mercifully short at 34 minutes, it manages to seem much longer, with the vocals, drums, and rhythm guitars feeling completely phoned-in. Fortunately, there is one redeeming quality that made each listen more palatable. While Bingham may not be the best vocalist or writer of riffs, his solos are fantastic. Most songs have a good solo, and the ones on “The Bohemian,” “Spoils of War,” and “Mechanized Assault” are especially great. The production is what you would expect to hear on a computer-generated nu-metalcore album such as this – modern with a fat, chunky guitar tone.
Soulless, hookless, and possessing music, lyrics, and even album art contrived from common metal tropes, The Order of the Silver Compass truly appears to have been created by a machine. I’m not afraid to say that I enjoy some of FFDP‘s output, cheesy as it may be, but unlike Bingham’s former band, there is no real passion to be found here. If this was trying to be edgy radio rock it might have climbed into the 2.0 – 2.5 range, but marketing this as thrash and black metal is the ultimate sin. +0.5 points for the solos and the Knob Creek in the band photo.