Joining me today for a brisk discussion is fellow writer Tyler and we will be taking apart the innards of The Impassable Horizon. What’s that? It’s Fractal Universe‘s latest record. Who’s Fractal Universe? They’re a progressive death metal outfit from Paris, France. Are they doing it right? You fucking bet they are! Even though they’ve been releasing music for nearly six years, they sound like they have more than a solid decade of experience under their belts. Alright, without further ado, here we go.
Tyler: Hey Robert, how are you doing?
Robert: Hey Tyler, I’m fighting a war with the heat and I’m valiantly losing.
T: Oh, is that so? haha
R: Yeah, I can barely wait for the world to be covered in permafrost.
T: Right, so what do you say about The Impassable Horizon?
R: So I’m actually pretty excited to be talking about this record today, especially since I reviewed its predecessor two years ago. I have to say that I’m not impressed in the true sense of the word, but I am very pleased with what I heard. Have you had any contact with Fractal Universe prior to this?
T: I hadn’t! I think I first heard their previous record when you had reviewed it, and I was excited to dig into their new effort. I do think we’re in agreement on the album as a whole.
R: Well, with a fresher perspective at hand, how have you enjoyed digging into the contents of The Impassable Horizon? To me it definitely feels like a proper solid step forward, and it’s surely a record I will be revisiting in the future. It’s still hard to tell how it will stand the test of time, as such things take… uhm… time, hahaha. Although, I’m confident enough to say it will likely age much better than Rhizomes of Insanity.
T: I agree completely. I personally feel that this record has far more memorable moments. Perhaps the clean vocals assist with that for me, but there are some really awesome moments that manage to be a great mix of brutality and melody. I find myself also revisiting specific tracks like “A Clockwork Expectation” and the lead single “Symmetrical Masquerade” because they manage to get stuck in my head. That being said, it doesn’t feel like they’re ditching their sound from their previous records, as they’re continuing to bring the same pummeling riffing that I was hoping for.
R: I didn’t feel very strongly about the catchier aspects of the songs, although I do have to appreciate the fact that their rhythmic qualities are infectious without being cheesy or overly generic. I was, however, surprised with the addition of the saxophone; on tracks like the aforementioned “A Clockwork Expectation”, “Withering Snowdrops”, and “Black Sails of Melancholia”, to exemplify. I love how it basically starts to further legitimize a saxophone-infused progressive death metal niche that is also helmed by the likes of Burial In The Sky and Rivers of Nihil. It definitely feels like they are also doing their own thing. They manage to make it work very organically with what they do and really make good use of it as a lead instrument.
I can also definitely get behind the fact that the band is simply evolving while retaining their established sonic identity. The massive riffage clearly plays a solid part in all of this, and it’s seeing a much more technically proficient approach than before the way I see it.
T: Absolutely! I also think that the record ties in technicality in a way that doesn’t ruin the overall impact of the songs. I’ve said it in previous reviews, but I’m often turned off by bands that simply seem to want to show off their chops rather than write coherent music. In the case of Fractal Universe, each member is obviously a phenomenal musician, but it doesn’t seem like they feel like they have the constant need to prove it. As much as I love the virtuosic nature of some of the faster sections, I also love the moments where the dynamics shift to allow for more contrast. “Epitaph” sticks out in my head for the quiet middle section that erupts into a melodic guitar solo. Rather than being at a barrage of sound, I think those lulls in the attack actually make the record a far more repeatable experience.
I don’t know if I would necessarily categorize what they play as tech-death, but I definitely think listeners of that genre would find a lot of enjoyment in much of the album.
R: Yeah, I certainly wouldn’t call this tech-death either. It’s definitely a record that falls much more heavily in the progressive metal area, although it obviously has plenty of death metal in the mix as to give it the weight it wields.
The shift in dynamics is part of that progressive magic, and it’s clear that it isn’t something that’s inserted simply for the sake of diversity. It absolutely contributes to a more varied experience in this sense, but without making any kind of compromise to the architectural integrity of the album, nor to its consistency.
The Impassable Horizon also has something of a neat and uniform flow in spite of the nigh dizzying technicalities, nuances, and shifts in style. I’m not sure what I would attribute that to (other than the aforementioned level of musicianship), but it’s definitely something to point out.
‘Coherence’ is for sure the defining word for what the band achieves on a larger scale, but on a level of minute detail as well. The songwriting is tightly knit with plenty of flashy artifices, while the delivery and its embellishments are of a lovely bespoke kind to say the least.
T: One small thing that stands out to me is the song length. I’m a listener that can get pretty bored if a specific song seems to drag on for too long. Fortunately, the album’s average track length falls short of what is common on other progressive albums, and I think that’s why I don’t find myself overwhelmed when listening. The longest track is the finale, “Godless Machinists”, and at 8 minutes, it doesn’t feel daunting at all. In fact, I think it’s a perfect closer for the record, and the length doesn’t feel out of the ordinary.
As someone that used to listen to Dream Theater fanatically (and as someone that has been diving deep into hardcore punk lately), I think I’ve been turned off to longer tracks unless they keep my interest. I think the musicality that is featured on The Impassable Horizon is engaging enough that I don’t find myself wanting to skip tracks or change the album midway through.
R: I can see your point. I also used to be once into Dream Theater, haha, and I can relate for the most part to the song length argument. Although, I myself tend to prefer usually longer songs, as they can hold much more stuff to explore and have more meat to chew on. Clearly, it’s no easy feat to make long songs that aren’t redundant in any way for listeners. I can also relate to diving into hardcore; I’ve been doing some of that lately too. Now, sort of stating the obvious, my only qualm with short songs is that they end quickly – duh – am I right?
All things considered, Fractal Universe found a very sweet balance in crafting their prog-death package. The moods captured throughout the record are also something to underline. You can get some truly epic, highly dramatic scenes like in “A Cosmological Arch”, all the way to some plain riffy fun like on “Falls of the Earth”. Equally, the gamut runs from massive to nigh intimate.
It’s also refreshing to see that this type of emotive dynamic, as is beautifully shown in an analogous manner through the instrumentation, is done with respect to the album’s overall semantic flow; thus, complementing the way we make this trip from top to bottom.
T: I think you summed it up nicely! I’m expecting to revisit this album again in the future, and I personally think it’ll hold onto the charm and sense of excitement without aging poorly. Of course, only time will tell! I’m hoping that the people reading will dive into the album and find some standout tracks and moments like we did.
R: Totally. The Impassable Horizon is definitely one of the finest albums in metal as far as this year is concerned and I’m quite curious how much (hopefully a lot) of praise will it get. Fractal Universe is definitely a band that has to be on the radar of everyone who is into death, prog, and prog-death.