Written By: Kronos
The Schoenberg Automaton first caught my eye with their self-titled 2010 EP, which I probably found while browsing Bandcamp in a Meshuggah-induced stupor, keeping an eye out for anything promising that my penniless ass could download. The three-track tour de force immediately turned me on to the Brisbane based tech-death group and their jittering, atonal, and surprisingly refreshing style. Since that excellent EP, the Aussies have had three years to muster all of the necessary insanity for a full-length release that matches the intensity and freshness of those three songs which first put them on my radar. Vela had better damn well deliver.
Cleverly, all three songs from 2010’s The Schoenberg Automaton have been given a place on this disc, re-recorded but not significantly altered and beefed up through a new, crisp production job. A smart move on the part of the band, given that “Pineapple Juice and the Tough Stuffed Olive” actively defies me to play it at anything other than full volume. What really matters here, though, is the new material, and it makes par. The Schoenberg Automaton crafts songs that are immediately enticing while often being heavily atonal and sometimes confusing, wrapped around stop-and-go riffing that draws as much from their countrymen in Psycroptic as it does from the all-but-incomprehensible violence of Psyopus. It’s a mix of style that’s as instantly satisfying as it is continually rewarding, since they pay heavy tribute to their namesake, Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, by incorporating disconcerting atonal sub-melodies and straying away from any sort of predictable chord progression. All while maintaining a distinct and understandable structure and unity within each song.
Take for example, the freshly-minted “Arecibo,” which begins with a voracious scream of “This rock was never enough/ to satisfy the craving.” It’s a perfect highlight of the extraterrestrial themes of the album (which is featured more prominently in the interlude “Stopping a God Midsentence” which includes a piano solo layered on top of a War of the Worlds radio broadcast). The Dillinger Escape Plan have always said that their music is meant to make the listener feel uncomfortable, and that same ethic definitely applies here. Even though there are plenty of whiplash-inducing riffs on this album, it always feels unpredictable, especially given the anxious semi-melodic passages that are interspersed within the songs, especially the detuned and broken-sounding entrance to “The Woodhouse Sakati Syndrome,” another holdover from the EP.
While Vela collects more interest than the Koch brothers’ savings accounts, there are a few missteps. “A Stone Face of Piety” is an energetic, but imperfect opener, relying too much on riffing that’s relatively simple compared to the rest of the album. Elsewhere, the disc’s cap “UltimateWhirringEndMachine” is a decent song that gets completely overshadowed by the transfixing and heavy “The Worm Engine” that precedes it. There isn’t a bad song on the album, but the songs that are up to par still fall way behind the few hole-in-one efforts. Even on a relatively uninteresting song, however, the musicianship on this group is fantastic. Everyone keeps up with the measured chaos and gets their chance to shine, but there is no standout performance, mainly because every performance is so impressive.
These brave souls have done what some thought impossible: they’ve created a truly unique style of technical death metal. It’s not focused on being heavy, bleak, fast, or pedantic: it’s shifted towards the abstract, aiming a deft nod towards its expressionist namesake, while remaining ostensibly brutal enough to engage the common metalhead. The Schoenberg Automaton should be on the map for anyone interested in thought-provoking mathcore or death metal, and I honestly hope that despite its relatively quiet release amidst Myriad Records’ apparent collapse, Vela can make some year-end lists.