Fractal Gates have been on my radar since a certain simian scribe o’ Steel introduced me to Enshine, one of several solid acts featuring Fractal Gates‘ Sébastien Pierre. While Enshine sees Sébastien’s screams set to some sweetly soaring and seriously expressive string work, the dudes we’re discussing deal in dirtier, deathier depths of metal. Space-death, as it were, or something to that effect. Whatever it is, it’s 100% Muppet approved, so when I saw this one hovering in the promo cess-isphere, all Swanö-mastered and unsnagged, I quickly dumped as much Nyquil as I could
spare into the break room hobo wine, waited for Steel to invariably pass out, then made my move. Quick, before he comes to, let’s see if this was worth poisoning management over1.
The most I can say for ambient intro “Vision X” is that it’s there, merely existing before merging into “Breath of Life” and doing nothing that the album couldn’t have lived without. Don’t be too surprised, but the interlude and outro follow suit. Thankfully, the rest of the album is significantly more engaging, an enjoyable visit to the outskirts of Scar Symmetry‘s sonic solar system. Sébastien’s growls are top notch as always, throat wrenching vocal transmissions from frequencies somewhere between October Tide and Antarktis that give The Light life. Guitarists Stéphane Peudupin and Arnaud Hoarau fuse melodeath magic and astral atmospheres into something riffed out of this world, albeit not necessarily downright stellar. There’s no denying the enjoyability of celestial melodeath voyages through “Chasing the Line” and “Bound by Time,” but there’s also no denying their structural similarity, or the fact that some solo flares would lend more life to Fractal Gates‘s universe. That said, this is still some pretty solid sounding stuff.
Did I say this sounded solid? Of course I did, you just read so. You also recently read that Swanö got his golden fingers on the mastering reigns, so it goes without saying that the album itself sounds fucking excellent. Each instrument is given plenty of room in the mix, and Sébastien’s screams are similarly never stifled or else stifling. Jeremy Briquet’s work behind the kit, in particular, benefits greatly from the studio god’s wisdom by being granted an appropriate presence in any particular passage; when the drums need to match the intense Dark Tranquility chuggatry of “Faceless,” they’re loud and crystal clear yet not deafening, and the way they pair with bassist Antoine Verdier’s work sounds better than any rhythm section I’ve heard in anything I’ve reviewed thus far. For realz, I drew several looks of concern at the laundromat as I was listening to “Dreams Apart” for the first time and exclaimed “Holy fucking shit!” for no apparent reason, the clarity and resultant delivery of the song’s chugged-out middle astounding me into utter unawareness.
Both the band in general and the album in particular sound great in their own ways, but The Light That Shines reveals much mediocrity when one explores the compositional dynamics of the album; the compositions are consistently solid and the music maintains its appeal to anyone interested in the sound of Before the Dawn in space, but with each track strictly adhering to a formula that shies away from fretboard supernovae, there’s definitely less life than one might expect regardless of how much/little they care for the sonic stars being circled here. Proper closer “Seas of Flames” is a personal favorite, and yet I must admit that it does nothing with its time that hasn’t been done in the half-hour that preceded it. Fractal Gates may work with superior equipment, but the finished product here is a somewhat unambitious collection of clones, after the first four or five tracks The Light That Shines becomes an echo chamber and without sufficient sonic sparkling to spruce the songs up such a situation is, sadly, unsustainable sans attention span casualties.
At first blush The Light That Shines radiates with potential and promise, but all the musical makeup and Muppet adoration in the world can’t make a so-so album truly shine. If culled down into a 5 track EP, the material would make an excellent teaser for greater things to come, were such the case. As it stands, my high hopes came crashing down to earth in a disappointing burst of snores and repetition, and I’ve been forced into moodily adopting a flask-only policy for fear that the ape who must not be named returns to mete out silverback justice. Hopefully this isn’t my last review between now and that fateful day, as I’d prefer to leave you all with something to remember.