For any gifted musician, there ever stares the dilemma of balance. Balance is something of an elusive mediator between brilliance and over indulgence, between the dynamic and disarray. Technical death metal has persistently been harried by claims of over indulgence, of pushing the boundaries of structure into the ridiculous. To master such a challenge, to alight gently upon the knifepoint dividing genius and insanity, is a taxing mantle – one not many acts in the genre achieve, with most contenders falling to the wayside. Once in a great while, technical death metal offers something ground-breaking, something stretching the confines of the genre, something that pushes forwards into new territory. When Colorado virtuosos ALLEGAEON first began making waves with their 2010 debut full length, Fragments of Form and Function, the band was a novel amalgamation of melodic and technical death metal elements. While such a combination was not unheard of, few had ever taken such a modern approach to the idea. With 2012’s stellar sophomore sequence, Formshifter, the group produced something vividly exciting. Driven, unique, and defined, the album proved a highlight of the year, cementing the band’s signature sound of eight string guitars, low-end grooves, volatile speed, and intensive fretboard pyrotechnics.
The ceaseless marching of time has brought us to 2016, and with it, ALLEGAEON’s fourth full length album, Proponent for Sentience. Opening with the first portion of the trilogy that makes up the album’s sprawling title track, immediately noticeable is the distinctly dark neoclassical tone dominating the soundscape, evoking an atmosphere more akin to FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE than the band’s previous offerings of slick, futuristic progressions. While this atmosphere does often reoccur throughout the album, the sudden but natural transition into more familiar territory of relentless grooves and catchy hooks establishes the apparent main theme of the album, beside the inevitable oncoming war against the machines: balance. ALLEGAEON have incredibly managed to find the fine edge of balancing a plethora of styles and influences within the context of their own signature style.
Proponent for Sentience boasts a new voice for the band: Riley McShane, of progressive metal act SON OF AURELIUS. Matching the style of the band’s previous vocalist with surgical precision, while also pushing the boundaries of the band’s sound with several clean singing sections, including an extensive demonstration on the band’s RUSH cover, Subdivisions. These new additions allow the band to expand further into unexplored territory, offering ALLEGAEON a bright and undoubtedly progressive future.
As any listeners of Allegaeon’s previous material will know, guitar virtuoso Greg Burgess and relatively new addition Michael Stancel are no strangers to tendon snapping fretboard acrobatics. The album is peppered with incendiary solos in a nigh-on unparalleled display of ability. However, despite the duo’s fervent attempts to convince one otherwise, the lead-work ever toes the line of self-indulgence without taking that fateful egotistical plunge that befalls a significant portion of other technical death metal musicians. Between Burgess’ expressive flamenco sorcery on Gray Matter Mechanics – Appasionata Ex Machina and Stancel’s incredible sweep picking lead during the introduction to Proponent for Sentience III: The Extermination, the two have set a new standard for writing and playing ability in death metal.
Compositionally, the band has never been more refined, nor so expansive. Where the album’s predecessor, Elements of the Infinite, took a distinctly cheesy writing style, Proponent for Sentience sees a return to a darker tone. A particular highlight is the blistering ethereal brilliance closing out the album’s first half, Of Mind and Matrix. Swirling tremolo picked melodies, vicious soaring vocals, and a vibrantly textured atmosphere clearly show that this is ALLEGAEON’s secret FALLUJAH love-child.
Proponent for Sentience oozes a certain vastness, a scope and vision bigger than the sum of its parts. Albums of this scale are difficult to comprehend at times, but ALLEGAEON has found a near perfect balance of influences without losing pace or definition. Despite being over an hour in length, the album feels far shorter due to its intensive, varied, and relentless atmosphere. A monumental effort in compositional ability, and utterly unique in the genre, Proponent for Sentience is a vast leap forward. Varied, professional, and impossibly compelling, this is an exercise in balance, a triumph in technicality, and surely a benchmark in technical death metal.
Proponent For Sentience is set for release on September 23rd via Metal Blade Records.
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