The Chemical Mind is one of the most revered artists among the Everything Is Noise crew. It’s a project by one of the busiest people in music that I’m aware of, Nick Krueger. He’s a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer delving into many areas of the music spectrum with diverse releases. It’s quite a rabbit hole to go down, to look into the music released in his own name or TCM. What, you didn’t see us wax poetic about his last album, Beneath the Shadow It Casts? You miss the Weekly Featured Artist article we ran last year? No matter, because the newest album That Benign Terror looms close, and we’re back with another fun duo review featuring my pal Tyler and myself. What did we think of it? Glad you asked…
David: Hi Tyler. How are you doing?
Tyler: I’m doing pretty well, David! Things have been looking up, in more ways than one. How about yourself?
D: Same, I think. It’s been a stressful, busy week for many, many reasons, but hey, we’re in November now, the year is almost over, and that’s always exciting.
T: I couldn’t agree more. 2020 has been a pretty awful year socially. But I have to admit, there’s been a ton of cool new music I’ve heard recently.
D: Yes, and that includes the reason we were brought together today, doesn’t it? Finally getting a chance to dig into the next album from The Chemical Mind.
T: It sure does. It’s definitely an album I’ve had on my radar within the last couple months.
D: Indeed, and announced out of the blue a couple months ago. I remember I saw the announcement post on Nick Krueger’s Instagram late at night, and immediately went to our EIN group chat to yell it in all caps.
T: Exactly! I wasn’t familiar with The Chemical Mind‘s music until I began writing for EIN. I actually was fortunate enough to write the premiere for “Sisters” in September. That definitely got me even more thrilled for this record to come out!
D: That was a good premiere! Have you checked out Beneath the Shadow It Casts? That was how I got familiar with this particular project.
T: I did! I actually listened to it a few days before writing that premiere and absolutely loved it. The songs are complex and stunning without sacrificing any of the intensity I would expect from a blackgaze project. I definitely thought it was pretty unique!
D: I agree. It’s one of those albums that is well-loved by nearly anyone that listens to it, especially on our team. It was number three on our top 75 albums of 2019, which was a year packed with tough competition already. Now we’re faced with the follow-up, That Benign Terror, and I have to start us off by asking, what were your initial thoughts on it as a whole?
T: The new album definitely had a lot to live up to. I must say, I really enjoyed the ambiance of That Benign Terror. Nick Krueger really knows how to properly build a song and create soundscapes that can switch from beautiful to terrifying at the drop of a hat. I think the songwriting is very well done, but there are some moments where I struggle with the production on the album. Although it is mostly nitpicky, it was something that distracted me from the overall effect. How about you? What did you think?
D: I think we’re definitely in sync here. I’m not a production or mixing expert at all – I just know what I like personally, or what fits a particular style of music for me – but I could sense this album was handled differently and added more of a grating quality to it. Given the overall tone and mood of That Benign Terror, I assume that’s purposeful, to make those darker moments stand out more and really get in your head. But yes, it almost goes without saying that the song-by-song writing, the flow, the melodies, it’s all there from before, but slanted in a different way which I love.
T: Absolutely! Mind you, the more ambient songs like “Nephilim” and “Ophanim” (which is my personal favorite on the album) sound absolutely incredible while still keeping raw energy. Those songs both have this perfectly dark atmosphere that fits so well into The Chemical Mind‘s style. I think my aversion to the production comes from songs like “Dominion” and “Apophasis”. I should just be blunt and say that my issue lies in the drums. They’re certainly programmed drum tracks that are using some sort of MIDI software or drum machine. If those songs had real heavy and thunderous drums, I would have no real complaints. I didn’t feel a real intensity when the blast beats kick in, which is what I look for in a lot of the black metal-esque stuff I listen to. Other than that, the remaining instrumentals sound fantastic! I’m just hyper-critical because I’m a drummer!
D: That’s fair, and funny enough, “Apophasis” is the track that came to mind when you brought this whole thing up to begin with, so I think you’re on to something there. Also funny is that “Ophanim” is probably my favorite too, but before I exactly get into why, I must ask: do you have a theory on what That Benign Terror is about or what the title at least refers to?
T: That’s a great question! It’s tricky because I’m usually pretty terrible at looking for themes in music (unless we’re talking about musical motifs), but in this example, I imagine the title deals with the fear of something that may not be able to hurt you. I think that a lot of The Chemical Mind‘s music has a sort of dark hopelessness surrounding it, so it certainly wouldn’t surprise me that the title takes on even more tragic undertones. What are your theories on it?
D: My theory, and I’m sure this is a biased and plebeian take, is that it has something to do with mental health, chiefly depression or something similar. Something that can consume and take you over, run your whole life if it’s severe enough. Now, obviously, depression isn’t benign at all, it’s a very serious thing, but the way I interpret it is, things like depression and anxiety lie to you. It manifests these intrusive thoughts that you’re not worthy, you’re not trying hard enough, no one cares about you, you’re messing something up in your life, and none of that may be factually true, but your brainmeat does a hell of a job of convincing you otherwise. In this regard, the terror is very real in that you’re experiencing it and it takes many forms; the benign part comes in with how that mental health terror makes you feel – it’s all based on lies and shouldn’t bring you any harm because they are so unreasonable or illogical, but anyone that suffers from mental illness like that knows that’s not exactly how it works.
T: Wow, that’s an incredible take on it. I think that’s perfectly fitting with the mood of the music on the album. I definitely could stand behind that theory!
D: To be fair, there’s some songs and lyrics that don’t particularly line up with this theory, but still! It’s what I got. My only other guess was how bigotry and that manufactured fear from it causes terror and takes over your mind and body with a blackened hate, but the terror is ultimately benign if you look past the reactionary fear-mongering you see so much about a ton of topics from health to race, especially in America, and get informed.
T: Interesting! I like that view on it as well! I mean, there’s currently plenty of terrifying and destructive behavior we see on a daily basis, especially this year. I’m sure plenty of the recent events fueled a lot of the aggression and intensity that comes throughout the record. As I said before, the feeling of darkness that shrouds this album certainly helps with both theories. It seems to reflect the emotions that many of us have felt this year.
D: Agreed. I feel like I have a friend when I hear this album, where I can enjoy the cerebral, celestial highs like in “Nephilim” where the guitars and vocals are very feathery. Here, I see beams of light kind of piercing that dense darkness that was built from pretty much the first song with more heavy instrumentation and an eerie tone that lets whatever the terror is seep in through the cracks. I think we’ve all had days where the terror overcomes us and we just have to… wait it out almost.
T: Very true! Most of that song feels like a short relief from the darkness heard in the other tracks. When that distorted riff kicks in about two-thirds of the way in, that signals to me that there is more despair left to come. It’s a bleak outlook, but, to me, it shows that there is light in the darkness and vice versa. The more I think about it, the more I realize how important the ambient sections of this album are. Each of them seem to be designed to offer a sense of security as a break from the sheer ferocity.
D: Yeah, agreed. And you saw this in TCM‘s previous album too, right? There was heavier, denser moments, but that album didn’t feel as dark to me. I always thought of Beneath the Shadow It Casts like being lost in a mystical forest, where there’s a feeling of magic around, but also this different primal energy calling out and indirectly threatening you. So those lighter moments were for when you could see through the fog in the trees and the light pierced through the canopy. Here, it’s similar, but it’s more like a sharp inhale of air before you’re submerged in darkness again and almost drown. There’s a lack of hope on That Benign Terror and I actually like that because I don’t really have much hope either most of the time. It’s fleeting at best, just like on this album.
T: Yes! I definitely agree with that. Oddly enough, when I heard “Sisters” for the first time, I expected the rest of the album to take on a lighter tone than Beneath the Shadow It Casts. The track is more progressive and similar to a band like Opeth rather than the black metal I was expecting. Then, when I was driving and listening through That Benign Terror for the first time, “Seraphim” proved me wrong. When that song kicks it, it hits wildly hard. It did catch me off guard, but not in a bad way at all. I actually wanted to hear a more blackened approach than what I had heard on “Sisters”, and the rest of the album didn’t let me down.
D: I thought the same thing. I didn’t not like “Sisters” at first, but I sensed a shift and really wondered where Nick was going to go with it. Little did I know, this was waiting in the margins.
I do wanna talk a bit about “Seraphim” too. It’s the first song – like you said, wildly hard, but it does relent in certain places and one that was key to me enjoying it as a whole is how it bookends the album with the final song, “Ophanim”. Did you catch that both songs end with the same verse of lyrics?
T: I didn’t! I love it when artists do that. I blame that I didn’t notice on the fact that I didn’t sit down and check out the lyrics for the album yet. Something like that certainly adds to the entire cohesiveness of the album. If I may ask, what are those lyrics? It might help me see a greater perspective on the story arc of the record.
D: I’m glad you asked, because I already got them ready to fire the hell off. The verse that’s repeated is:
‘Be not afraid
Your prayers are heard
Cover your eyes
Cover your feet
Your guilt has departed’
The reason I like this so much is if you listen to this verse on “Seraphim”, it’s at the end and sung with layered vocals, mainly a more cleanly sung take and a harsh one. The clean one is in the foreground, overshadowing the harsh take, and I think the lyrics they’re both singing differ a bit, but what you can hear is what I said above. On “Ophanim” however, all you get is a very upfront harsh take. All of the light and gentleness of the verse before is gone.
It’s worth noting too that the words ‘seraphim’ and ‘ophanim’ both refer to these high orders of angels, the former being this beauteous figure that I think most people even passably familiar with Judeo-Christian religion like me think of as a traditional angel, whereas the latter specifically refers to celestial beings – angels of some kind – that guard the throne of God. This, along with the way the instruments and music melt away at the end of “Ophanim”, makes me feel like a death took place, like a battle of some kind was lost. There’s other lyrics referring to a ‘desecrated carcass‘ in the song, etc., like the final moments of That Benign Terror was something dying.
It’s like the first time you hear this verse, it’s sung with benevolence and to assuage fear, to have someone lower their guard. But the second time, it’s more harsh and damning, almost mocking you with how it misled you and maybe ultimately led to your demise.
T: Wow, just as I expected, that’s pretty dark! I think this definitely adds a significant amount of hopelessness to the album. I’m thinking of the best way to tie this in to your theories on the title. Could it have to do with the idea of mental health? I could see this type of thing happening when someone’s own psyche is causing them to have harmful thoughts. During “Seraphim”, those lyrics could relate to the battle your rational mind has against intrusive negative thoughts. On the other hand, those same lyrics in “Ophanim” could take on a much more sinister tone.
D: Yes, exactly. And when you consider “Dominion”, the second song on the album, it’s a song about a hostile takeover. The only lyrics are:
‘I want more
So forget what I said before
Which one of us is the master of my body?
I’ve become the void herself’
It’s like the terror making itself comfortable inside you, and you can’t even discern who’s in control anymore. Then the rest of the album plays this out in different, progressing ways with each song to the end.
T: That seems to point toward a grim depression to me. Both lyrically and musically, there appears to be a desperation for healing. I love the fact that the music flawlessly matches the lyrical content. I’ve listened to so much music lately that uses downcast lyrics over catchy and poppy music. That approach obviously works well, but sometimes it’s necessary to feel a specific emotion when listening to an album like this one.
D: Indeed. I always think of Coheed and Cambria with things like that, where the lyrics are about people dying, but the melodies and riffs are super upbeat and fun.
Boy, is this gonna be weird if I’m way off! But part of the beauty of music is that it’s open to interpretation like this and I like delving into themes when I’m able to. When all is said and done, no matter what the themes are, this is an album that makes me feel many things. Just as with Beneath the Shadow It Casts, it’s experiential, dense, and extremely vivid. The spirals of despair in the instrumentation rival those of some of my favorite bands like Thantifaxath. On that note, shoutout to the guitar and bass in “Simulacrum” because holy shit, that was intense.
T: You’re totally right! Even if your interpretation isn’t spot on with what the initial intention was, it isn’t the end of the world! You took from the album what you heard, and I certainly agree with you with your points. Also, yes, “Simulacrum” is a badass track. Some of the more wild parts remind me a lot of riffs that you would hear on a Gojira record. It’s really neat and unique, especially for an album that commonly follows some black metal tropes. I definitely enjoy hearing a project like this experiment with some different songwriting tricks and techniques!
D: That’s why I like Nick. He really plays with expectations in ways that you can’t anticipate, like how “Sisters” kind of threw both of us off at first. He’s a prolific-ass dude too! It seems like he’s always dropping something whether it’s a TCM album, a vaporwave project, or something more rhythm and electronic-based like his Division of the Plane series from last year. They’re all distinct, but I think flood over into each other in super subtle ways.
T: It’s sweet that he’s so versatile like that. I’m sure it also helps to keep his creativity fresh and exciting. I gotta check out some of his other projects!
D: I’d recommend it. 🙂
Well, Tyler, I think we’re just about done here, but do you have any final thoughts on That Benign Terror?
T: I think I covered most of my thoughts, but I gotta say, this record is definitely one I’ll continue to revisit. I would say it’s one of the more idiosyncratic records I’ve heard this year, and I mean that in the best way possible. Any other things you’d add in before we wrap up?
D: I just wanna say that Nick did it again. I feel like I still need more time to see where That Benign Terror truly sits with me, but I honestly can’t imagine it not being one of my most cherished albums of the year again. I find peace in its rare radiance, and I find a knowing friend in its dread. Oh, and thanks for providing the lyrics! I feel like hardly any bands do that anymore, so it’s a point of praise when they do.
T: Agreed! Glad I got to talk through my thoughts on the record with you!
D: Same here, we’ll have to do it again sometime. 🙂
D: Bye, y’all! Check out That Benign Terror when it drops.
T: Hell yea
Special thanks to Nick for providing us with some art from the album to accent the text of our review!