Being quite the Revocation fan, I was pleasantly surprised earlier this year to see that Dave Davidson’s partner in crime, Dan Gargiulo, was involved in a death metal side project. That band, Artificial Brain, released their first full-length, Labyrinth Constellation this February, and we unfortunately didn’t get the chance to review it. As some of our more kvlt readers pointed out, this was a mistake, as the record could have easily topped the February RoTM list (sorry, Soreption). Come winter, it’s high time we repent for our sins and present the review all twelve of you have been waiting for.
At first glance, Labyrinth Constellation seems like a mess, there’s as much Gorguts-y bass noodling as there is Demilich guttural worship going on in “Brain Transplant,” and the song’s abrupt ending leaves a lot of loose ends out there. Labyrinth Constellation‘s disparate stylistic strings cross and recross each other to form dense tangles and knots. Yet out of this inscrutable morass, the album builds fortresses of darkness, spires of beauty, and webs of translucent vapor. It’s as difficult as it is rewarding, and for those prepared for the challenge will not return unscathed.
Labyrinth Constellation‘s enveloping and ceaseless commitment to the alien brings with it a change of locale. The atmosphere is heady with sulfurous fumes, oxidizing atom by atom the rusting guitars, whose very strings seem to cast a fine dust of hematite onto the alien ground above which they wretchedly resonate, their haunting calling out to the unspeakable forms lingering upon the edges of perception. Sputtering, and honking, the bass slithers around them restlessly, lashing out of every gap in their twisted chrysalis and fighting the guitars’ relentless gravitation with its own subversive countermelodies. Narrating their struggle is a rotting mouth, clogged with alchemical waste and emitting an incessant rain of dust. This cohort staggers and weaves through plummeting blasts and spacious interludes, forced by the percussion’s topography to straggle from karst to crater, wading through infested fumaroles and icy caverns into vacuum. Without a home in sight and forced into perpetual motion, Labyrinth Constellation evokes both constant discovery and the weariness that accompanies it when each new incomprehensibility slides quickly by, forever opaque and lost to memory. The showstopping “Absorbing Black Ignition” starts out as a grating, mass of Teitanblood-grade hideousness, before slipping into one of this year’s most infectious grooves and then effortlessly introducing a scintillating and surprisingly complex lead. By any measure it’s one of the year’s best songs; extremely memorable and powerful, it pulls you in as surely and as deeply as its disturbing exit then pulls the band back into the distance, overtaken by massive organ synths.
More gems erupt from the substrate as Labrynth Constellation drags its pitted surface past your ears; “Worm Harvester” and many of the album’s earlier tracks dredge up muck with a twisted almost-slam sensibility, but the band is at their best during the second half of the album. “Labyrinth Constellation” mixes in more of the atrophied melody hinted at in “Absorbing Black Ignition” to create a cavernous but beautiful atmosphere which the band trudges and dives through, eventually collapsing to usher in “Hormone’s Echo.” “Moon Funeral” ends the album stunningly, packing in some of the album’s most memorable buildups and motifs before it comes to an end.
Tying all of this excellence together is a fantastic production and mastering job by Menegroth‘s Colin Marston. His efforts have truly brought out the frantic, uneasy and hideous nature of the album while keeping the instruments incredibly balanced and natural, and I really wish more producers would follow his lead here. With a less stellar production job, this album could have been greatly less impactful.
Simply put, Labyrinth Constellation is an essential listen. It’s extremely inventive, relentlessly rewarding, and as addictive as it is beautifully made. With this triumphant introduction, Artificial Brain are poised to cement themselves alongside Ulcerate, Portal, Baring Teeth and Pyrrhon as harbingers of death metal’s next form, a form both uncomfortable and unfamiliar, yet far from unwelcome.
Tracks to Check: “Absorbing Black Ignition,” “Hormone’s Echo,” “Moon Funeral”