I’m a big fan of The Algorithm‘s first two demos, both sprawling and unpredictable mash-ups of glitchy electronica and heavy riffing. Adventurous and eclectic, The Doppeler Effect and Critical Error have stayed in my regular rotation for the better part of a decade, but after 2012’s Polymorphic Code, Rémi Gallego’s strange project fell off my radar. It wasn’t that I lost interest in the music – I just had bigger, heavier fish to fry, and record companies at the time were not the best at making their products readily available for perusal. But going back through the discography, it’s clear that over time The Algorithm has sunk into less wild material, bringing in live drummers (this time it’s newcomer Jean Ferry) that couldn’t possibly hope to match the barrage of earlier works and eschewing the strange collages of early days in favor of a more streamlined and melodic sound. Compiler Optimization Techniques continues this trend.
Though driven by racing synths rather than Gallego’s often simple guitar work, Compiler Optimization Techniques doesn’t strike one as an experimental record. If you’ve delved deep enough into the Dark Tranquillity back catalog to hear the electronic remixes of their 2000s material, a lot of this album will seem vaguely familiar. Compiler Optimization Techniques is the result of those Japanese bonus tracks running off to begin their own society deep within Ableton Live, free of the terrible burden of Mikael Stanne. The flavor of the day is steady, straightforward and simple, rarely departing from a few layers of repetitive synth or guitar lines. If it weren’t obvious enough from the promo pick alone, a quick listen confirms that Gallego has been listening to a lot of synthwave.
Regardless of whether or not you think that’s a good thing1, there are other problems to be had here. Any quick sampling of Compiler Optimization Techniques feels fun enough, but the five long songs just don’t do enough in forty three minutes to make the full album feel satisfying. Much like those Dark Tranquillity bonus tracks, a huge amount of the album just feels like padding: repetitive, uninteresting sections that don’t do much of anything at all. There’s barely any experimentation or interest in this album, and its ambitious attempt to tell a story falls flat. Not only is there little figurative material here to imply progression, there’s very little that stylistically differentiates the songs. The Algorithm‘s first attempt at a concept album, Polymorphic Code, was far more successful not only because its songs had different personalities, but because they had any personality at all.
While it certainly makes live shows more interesting, the decision to write a human drummer into The Algorithm‘s music is one that has always baffled me. The gridded nature of the music minimizes the ability of a drummer to really take lead, and more now than ever before, the drum parts that Gallego writes for humans are incredibly simplistic and unimaginative – nothing like the percussive spasms in his earlier work. Jean Ferry might as well just be a drum machine for all the good he’s allowed to do here, and if Gallego just gave up and went back to writing impossible drum parts to be played by computer The Algorithm‘s music would greatly improve. The weak percussion in Compiler Optimization Techniques only throws another hose in this watered-down album.
The Algorithm at its best succeeded because of how unpredictable and eclectic it was, a fractured fusion of breakcore and progressive metal that used the best parts of both genres to make something interesting and novel. Gallego was good at writing that. Long-form, synth-driven melodic death metal? Not so much. At its best, the album is anodyne, and at its worst it’s downright hokey. Synthy melodeath can certainly be done well – very well, in fact2, but Compiler Optimization Techniques is anything but that.