Instrumental metal has been a difficult branch for me to get into. A big part of why I got into metal is due to the wild dynamics offered by a human voice (and in one particular case, a coffee grinder). But there are always exceptions to the rule that eventually break the rule entirely. In my case, the first band to pop my “vocals or bust” bubble was Nightwish, whose instrumental-only rendition of Dark Passion Play is so compelling I ended up preferring it over the standard edition. Then I discovered Sleep Terror, a fantastic instrumental tech-death/surf/funk band you all owe it to yourselves to investigate. From there I discovered Echopraxia, a ghost/supernatural themed instrumental metal act, and now I’ve stumbled upon Essence of Datum, an instrumental melodic prog-death couplet from Minsk.1 Spellcrying Machine is their third release, promising to be their most cohesive and exciting yet. Does it live up to my lofty expectations?
Why, yes! While not at all similar in sound to Sleep Terror or Echopraxia, Essence of Datum are nevertheless highly capable of enveloping me within swirling leads and hooky riffs without a vocalist to drive the point home. Despite being classified by Season of Mist as simply ‘progressive metal’, this band better fits the melodic black and melodic death metal molds, with a hint of progression in the song structures to keep them from falling too far down the verse-chorus trap. While their debut Event Horizon rubbed shoulders a lot more intimately with stock progressive metal and heavy metal, more extreme tendencies—often reminding me of Hath and Oubliette, specifically—come forward on Spellcrying Machine, a move which works mightily in their favor.
Being a progressive death/progressive black metal outfit, you might assume Essence of Datum put riffs first, melody second. Not so here. In this case, Spellcrying Machine showcases guitarist Dmitry Romanovsky’s penchant for highly emotive leads and noodles taking precedence over the rhythmic aspect of their sound. That is not to say the riffs are unimportant (as evidenced by the sick theme in “Pendulum” and the black metal riff in “Spellcryer”), but they play a strong supporting role more often than not. Opener “Synthetic Soul Extractor” argues a strong case for this strategy, making up for the lack of vocal texture by loading the number with unfuckwithable note progressions and oodles of drive. Driving the songs even further are the thoughtful fills and runs provided by drummer Pavlon Vilchitsky, whose performance is tight as a crawl space in summer heat (“Shikari Algorithm”).
The band clearly holds great passion for their output on Spellcrying Machine, which makes its forty minutes whiz by, consequently demanding instant replays. However, I do have one major sticking point. Essence of Datum tend to end their songs abruptly. Sometimes this works, as on “Shikari Algorithm”, but on many other tracks, it feels more like the duo edited too much.2 Whether it be due to a sudden silence after a note that deserved a companion follower (“Spellcryer”) or a fadeout that isn’t timed quite right (“Synthetic Soul Extractor” and “Binar”), I can’t escape the feeling that the band occasionally leave something behind when a track concludes. This, obviously, isn’t a dealbreaker, but it’s something that I would like to see rectified in their fourth release come 2021-2.
In the end, I’m glad I snatched Spellcrying Machine from the promo bin. It’s a refreshing and pleasant take on the progressive melodic extreme metal formula, eschewing vocals in exchange for a double shot of guitar-driven melody. A tight runtime and consistent momentum afford listeners plenty of opportunity for repeat listens, which reveals more interesting layers and fun moments to take home. As the band continues to grow, I expect they will figure out how to conclude their songs more gracefully. But don’t let that scare you away. Essence of Datum deserve your immediate and full attention.