Over the past few years, Copenhagen’s most gruesome residents have established one of the world’s most fetid death metal breeding grounds, with acts like Phrenelith, Undergang, and Taphos garnering global attention. But with one look at the album art — say nothing of the band photo — you’ll recognize that we’re not going to hear from that ilk today. Instead, Piqia forces us to consider the lighter side of the city’s metal scene. The one that birthed Vola‘s slick mashup of rock, djent, and industrial music.1 The band’s debut, Artifact, joins albums like Cold Night for Alligators‘ Course of Events in fleshing out a Copenhagen sound focused on melody, technicality, and slick production.
Artifact bears all of the vitreous sheen of a blister package but none of the sharp edges when broken into. Slick, shiny vocals, crisp, clean guitars, whispering electronics, tightly controlled drums, all form-sealed together to catch the eye on a shelf. It djents. It’s candy-colored and vents airs of personality. You could make this your own for a low, low price.
But most things that come in a blister pack are objects best left unpurchased, and Artifact holds all of the value of a new blinking bauble. Once you have your hands on it, you see how ill-thought out and unnecessary your friendly, easily-obtained commodity really is. “Raindrops” takes time to get there, and for six minutes it’s a good song — restrained, engaging, and medlodic. But a further five minutes erases the good will built up — unnecessarily complex djent showboating, Sotelo-esque searches for something resembling a reasonable vocal melody. There’s no shortage of skill on display, as the string slingers scramble across fretboards and choir-boy clean vocals nail notes on cent, even if they seem to come in no particular order.
It gets worse. The tidbit of harsh vocals? Laughable. The cutesy talk-box sample that rambles on beneath a riff? Nauseating. When Piqaia slow down and soften up, they presage an interesting idea that never comes — it’s back to the catchy chorus, chill, clean picked section, techy djent riff, pyrotechnic solo, catchy chorus cycle that these songs all seem to follow. It doesn’t help that they’re all far too long or that sections that aren’t choruses might as well be swapped back and forth across the album. Artifact falls for every djent trope in the book with a sort of earnesty that seems predicated on a deep and honest ignorance not only to the redundancy of their music but also to how boring these were the first time around. Just because it’s recorded on a big budget rather than an Axe FX doesn’t mean djent has all of the sudden moved up in the world. We got Periphery already, Vildjharta released the kvltest djent album in 2011, and the future of eight string guitars is in Archspire.
What perplexes me most about djent’s rebarbative influence on the modern metal scene is that up-and-coming progressive metal bands such as Piqaia seem incapable of avoiding it.2 Misha Mansoor’s cult runs deep enough that many guitar nerds seem more interested in their Enterprise-bridge-esque pedalboards and headless, fan-fretted, glow-in-the-dark phallic symbols than in creating anything interesting with them.3 While Piqaia‘s focus on melody feints towards innovation, or at least personality, deeper inspection of Artifact reveals a troubling reliance on djent tropes beneath the squeaky-clean vocals. The beauty of Vola‘s music is in the band’s creative embrace of restraint, and when Piqaia stop trying to impress listeners, Artifact would almost be a companion to an album like Inmazes. But until the band learn to focus on writing sensible songs and melodies over production and playing, they’ll see little but faint praise.