One of the last bands I saw perform live before the great pandemic hit us all was FRACTAL UNIVERSE at Tavastia in Helsinki. As a supporting act to OBSCURA, the French progressive death metal act toured around the world in support of their 2019 release “Rhizomes Of Insanity.” I was pleasantly surprised by the band’s sound and knew that they were worth keeping an eye out for. Their new album, “The Impassable Horizon,” was released on June 25th, 2021, via Metal Blade Records.
I have to be honest when I say that my expectations for this album were really, really high. If there is one track from 2019 that has been still recurring in my playlists, it’s “Oneiric Realisations” and on top of that, the singles the band had put out prior to this release, especially “A Clockwork Expectation,” have been pretty sick. It’s easy to worry that with such high expectations, disappointment would be certain when the final result hit the market, but I dare say that this album is definitely one of my favorites to come forward in 2021!
Opening track “Autopoiesis” plummets with its blast-beats and atmospheric elements, after which beautiful guitar melodies give the song more character. The fast track instantly shows how the French four-piece have matured and fine-tuned their sound, blending even more elements from technical death metal, while maintaining their signature progressive sound. “A Clockwork Expectation” sets the bar even higher with its somewhat catchy, melodic chorus. Starting off with an impressive, somewhat slow drum pattern, jazzy bass lines, and simple guitar melodies, soon the track takes off and shows the band’s full potential. The riffs sometimes are slightly reminiscent of NECROPHAGIST and, in general, the band beautifully blends several genres in just this one track, which is most clear in the jazzy saxophone solo intermezzo that doesn’t feel out of place at all. Incredible.
A different tone is set with “Interfering Spherical Scenes,” which is perhaps the best illustration of how these musicians know perfectly well how to blend in different time signatures without the musically being forcefully pushed into one direction. This proggy offering is as smooth as it gets – sometimes elements from progressive metal acts like HAKEN are interspersed with more extreme sounds, which works surprisingly well. So far, the album has been pretty intense with a lot of different impressive musicianship and extremities showing off, but once in a while, FRACTAL UNIVERSE also show a more laidback vibe, of which “Symmetrical Masquerade” is the best example. Beautiful, atmospheric soundscapes topped off with jazzy piano melodies are juxtaposed with aggressive, heavy sections. “Falls of the Earth” is somewhat more minimalistic, more guitar-driven, which is a welcome change as – while complex in nature – it feels more straightforward. Of course, as the track progresses, its mood changes a little bit and more technicality is being pushed in the mix to intensify the climactic ending of the song.
With impressive guitar wizardry, “Withering Snowdrops” rocket-launches itself into the stratospheres of heavy metal and turns out to be one of the ultimate highlights on this record for me. There’s something about this song that makes me smile and feel all warm inside. Basically, it’s one of those tracks that is so extreme in everything it does: incredible shredding, impressive drumming, aggressive vocals that you keep on hitting rewind. Add in a surprisingly catchy chorus and an uplifting saxophone solo, and you’ll understand that this song almost only contains hooks.
The tempo slows down significantly with the intro of “Black Sails of Melancholia.” Acoustic guitars and a beautiful saxophone melody progress into a slightly steadier rhythm, but still altogether keep a slower, more melancholic character. While most of the tracks don’t have a pronounced grim edge, this track definitely has its roots deep into sorrow, showing yet another side of the band. Introducing some subtle black metal elements into the sound, FRACTAL UNIVERSE continue with “A Cosmological Arch,” a perfect continuation of the already grim sound. As the track progresses, there is this beautiful section with the most beautiful bass part, after which the saxophone turns the atmosphere into completely something else.
We’re nearing the end of this record with “Epitaph,” a good start of the closing chapter of this record, but it doesn’t come close to the juggernaut of this album, “Godless Machinists.” If anything, “Epitaph” keeps it real but slowly progresses to a more atmospheric offering, trying to prepare the listener for this behemoth of a track. The longest track of the album is perhaps the most calculated and precise track of them all, coming close to perfection. If you are wondering what FRACTAL UNIVERSE sounds like, this track has all the band’s facets combined in 8 minutes and ultimately feels like an incredible journey through different soundscapes and motions. Somehow the band has created the ability to manipulate time, as 8 minutes have never felt this short. In a blink of an eye, the track is over and leaves us with the very last track, a familiar face amongst all these new songs: the unplugged version of “Flashes of Potentialities,” one of the standout tracks from their previous record, winding the release down significantly, allowing the listener to ponder what just happened.
Balancing between melodicity and technicality, FRACTAL UNIVERSE have finally found their way into the massive amount of intensity in this music. “The Impassable Horizon” feels more progressive in a way, introducing some new elements into the mix, but still has enough flavours of death metal and technical death metal in the mix. This is a nice, natural progression in the band’s sound and only makes sense. While “Rhizomes of Insanity” had all the ingredients for success but suffered from an over-saturated market, “The Impassable Horizon” makes the band stand out from the crowd, creating their own signature sound, and offering a beautiful, explorative journey through music, where the listener gets immersed in one layer after another of intense progressive metal – dynamic, impressive, and awe-inspiring. Another French album that will strive for a spot in my top 10 at the end of the year!
Written by Laureline Tilkin
- A Clockwork Expectation
- Interfering Spherical Scenes
- Symmetrical Masquerade
- Falls of the Earth
- Withering Snowdrops
- Black Sails of Melancholia
- A Cosmological Arch
- Godless Machinists
- Flashes of Potentialities (Unplugged)
Vince Wilquin – Guitar/Vocals/Saxophone
Hugo Florimond – Guitar
Valentin Pelletier – Bass
Clément Denys – Drums
Metal Blade Records