A while back, I saw a group of to-me- unknown musicians open for one of my favorite bands, The Aristocrats. I couldn’t decide whether I loved them or merely appreciated their approach to progressive metal. Last month, I watched them open for Virgil Donati. Again I was ambivalent, baffled by the razor-sharp execution of overwrought epics. I was impressed by their creativity and musicianship, but wondered where the spaces were. A listen to Artilect’s debut album, Percept, leaves me similarly perplexed.
Here’s the deal: These guys are fantastic players. Guitarist Johnny Cieslik, bassist Eddie Hidalgo, vocalist Josiah Baker and drummer Josh Hughes are amazing technicians, able to navigate the hairpin turns, insane polyrhythmic terrain and super-fast metal riffage of their music with ridiculous precision. Hughes is especially impressive, exhibiting a mastery of polyrhythms and double-bass craziness. And there is some very heavy shit on this record.
But I long for the spaces.
The album opens with “Tyranny,” which revs up with a deceivingly simple chordal arrangement. That lasts only moments, then it’s headlong into the madness, with a chunky cycling riff, Hughes’ double kicks blasting throughout. Baker gives it his best Maynard James Keenan, albeit somewhat more operatic and stylistic. “Deaf Hearing” travels a similar avenue, and the broken gallop section a minute in is pretty damn interesting.
Track five, “The Exchange,” may be the most impressive on the record, a fat-and-driving experiment in start-stop arrangement, Hughes again blowing the roof off with his intricate yet-no-less-powerful drumming. There’s even a nice blast section, and a very hard-hitting and complicated bridge (if bridges even exist in the Artilect universe).
But there are problems here. There is so much going on that’s it’s difficult to forgive the exhibitionism. It’s as if the band felt they had one shot at loading an album with every amazing riff they ever learned, sometimes gluing together incongruous sections in an effort to wow the listener at every turn. The effect is often exciting and perilous, but by the middle of the album, it’s just too much.
The other issue is the vocals. Baker is a fine singer, but there is so little room for him that the vocal lines seem draped like ripped linen over a jagged, chaotic landscape. Again, I long for spaces. A few moments where the instrumentation takes a break, and texture and melody rule. I get it. This is meant to be heavy, brain-crunching math-metal and, for the most part, it succeeds. But poor Baker is lost in the swirl. Almost as a footnote, there is one piece, a 10-minute jaunt, that seems nearly apologetic, a spacey jam that allows Baker to investigate long melody and harmony lines missing elsewhere on the record. But it’s too much too late.
It should be noted that the boys in Artilect are wonderful guys, and Baker is a dedicated promoter of the scene in Northeast Florida. He works hard at bringing new and diverse acts to town and making people aware of touring and local bands that may otherwise fly under the radar. Case in point: Artilect joins Scale the Summit and Glass Cloud on Thursday, Aug. 14 at 1904 Music Hall.
Fans of dense prog-metal will love this band. They’re more complex than Dream Theater, as dark as Tool and almost as confounding as Behold … the Arctopus. Just beware. There are a lot of notes rolling out very quickly, and they don’t stop. Even when you want them to.