Next Life – Guru Meditation Review

So many questions. So few answers. Who decided mathcore, industrial and grind needed to be matched up with chiptune? Where did that idea even come from? Who was this made for? The answers, I believe, are, respectively: Next Life did; who the fuck knows; and me, probably. I love genre mashups, and if chiptune is even remotely involved, I go to there with haste. Going to here in particular revealed that instrumental Dorito-dusters Next Life, hailing from Tønsberg, Norway, launched way back in ’99, immediately extinguishing the concept that chiptune-metal mixtures are a recent trend. Now it’s 2020 and Guru Meditation, the doublet’s fourth full-length, is upon us at last.

It’s a good thing Next Life deal in instrumental music, because Guru Meditation has a lot going on without overburdening itself with vocals. Chippy melodies bring on the nostalgia of a time spent playing Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow and envying those who played Metroid while I sat at home without any idea what that was. Anders Hangård’s drums slap you silly with chaotic blasts and overpowered final smashes, while the guitars cut everything up with razor sharp slices. Pretention, neoclassical noodling and fancy experiments find no home here, and the group’s chipped visage bears little resemblance to other acts like Master Boot Record. However, as you dig deep into these 8-bit constructs, details bloom into view and further avenues of exploration unlock.

Perhaps more important than how the album sounds, Next Life show considerable songwriting evolution on Guru Meditation. “The Beyond Perception” integrates twinkling beeps and chirps as counterpoint to direct and abrasive metal. Chipped leads drive everything just as they did on, for example, 2009’s The Lost Age, but attitudes and textures alter more flexibly at the whims of scathing guitars and penetrating snare hits, evidenced by the battling “Prophecy Come True” and “Part Human.” Thankfully, main man Hai Nguyen Dinh had the foresight to break up his vicious Steel-type attacks with more relaxed but ominous chip-only tracks (“Strength I,” “Infinite Karmic Repetition,” “Dexterity II,” and “Intelligence III,” in that order) which allow players to gain rest—but not too much rest, of course. Outside of the highlight reel, Guru Meditation possesses the quality of a fully realized concept, with a clear progression of story, marking the most noticeable—and appreciated—evolution between Next Life now versus past Next Life.

For everything that makes Guru Meditation a super cool and interesting listen, there remains bits of soldering that don’t quite adhere, holding the album back from my regular rotation. “Alive” contains some proggy structures that I’d enjoy hearing on future records, but it doesn’t contribute anything to the whole here, save for an interesting bass tone. “Astral Emenation” is fun, but the drums overpower everything like constant firecracker explosions, wearing me down in short order. Despite its tight runtime, “Slow Dive” makes a weak argument save for one cool melody in the back half, as it provides no resolution for what came before and no anticipation for what follows. Lastly, “Eternal Twilight” lacks purpose, offering plenty of nostalgic feeling for the countless hours I spent playing Rush 2, but nothing more.

There’s plenty to love about what Next Life created on Guru Meditation. But there’s also room for improvement. Levels feel incomplete despite the fact that the album represents their most fleshed out and worthwhile effort to date. I also highly recommend revisiting the mixing for the drums, as they often distract from rather than benefit the music which lies cowering behind them. Aside from those glitches, I enjoyed damn near everything about Guru Meditation, from the charming melodies to the intense mathy-grindy riffs to the smart song organization. All the pieces are here for Next Life to deliver a genre-defining work of digital art. This might not be it, but I still think it’s worth hearing, at least twice.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kpbs mp3
Label: Fysisk Format
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2020

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