REVIEW: Stengah – Soma Sema

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Founded already in 2013 in the historical town of Lille in France, the tech-metal mavericks, STENGAH, are releasing their debut full-length at long last. Their offering, titled “Soma Sema,” is due out on March 18th, 2022, via Mascot Label Group. As you would expect, what with the band name paying homage to the opening track on the 2002 MESHUGGAH outing, “Nothing,” and the album title being rather cryptic to say the very least, we are in for a sonic journey that is both strangely illuminating and brutal in equal measure. In biology, “soma” refers to the body as distinct from the soul, mind, or psyche. In linguistics, “sema,” in turn, is a noun that stands for a sign, a unit of meaning. Although the album is not conceptual, not in the prog-dinosaur sense, there seems to be an undercurrent of sorts – that of reconnecting with yourself at the intersection where the spiritual and physical realms collapse and merge into each other. Trapped in the time loop of these ten new songs, as though having sunk deep in gloomy reveries of madness, the band zooms in on the various nuances of the theme, subtly suggesting that real darkness has love, anger, and fear for a face.

The album sets its unstoppable momentum in motion with the short, instrumental intro track, “Weavering.” It resonates with the robust, post-metal air of many an atmospheric djent outfit, only to be followed by the track, “At the Behest of Origins,” which uses djenty polyrhythms merely as a reference point, gearing up on the somewhat GOJIRA-like, slightly progressive tech-metal crunch. The primal and visceral riffing quite nicely punctuates the lyrical theme that emphasizes the need to let go of the toxic, emotional baggage we carry from our past.

The theme of us being haunted by our childhood ghosts is further pronounced by the music video for the track, “Above Humanity.” The protagonist, a young woman, is haunted by the parallel-dimension version of herself incarnated as a childish depiction of a ghost. That’s pure science-fiction, right there, but it’s also something much more. The song seems to suggest, in a sort of roundabout way, that the monsters do not sleep under your bed – they sleep inside your head. The point is driven home rather brilliantly by the frantic riffs, post-rockish guitar legatos, and the brutally powerful vocal delivery of the frontman, Nicolas Queste. Needless to say, two tracks deep into the album, it has won me over already.

By turns crushing you with off-kilter groove-metal riffs, such as those on “Swoon,” and sludgey tech-metal onslaughts, such as “Blank Masses Inheritance,” the album makes progress with meticulous attention to detail and coherence. Towards the end, these metal ruffians play a few surprise aces from their rolled-up sleeves. “He and the Sea” is a dreamlike narrative based on the Belle Èpoque children’s book, La Mer et Lui, by Henri Meunier and Régis Lejonc. It is a story about finding a new purpose in life, soundtracked by the band’s relentless, steamrolling riffs that resonate with nothing short of a cutting-edge tech-metal perfection. The chugging riffage on “The Overman” is nicely balanced by the ethereal saxophone melodies and clean vocal passages that are nicely reminiscent of the Italian gloomsters, NOVEMBRE. On the closing track, “Offering,” the impression is even more pronounced with the song resonating by turns with the air of these Italians and the slightly more experimental and progressive side of GOJIRA. I could not have thought of a better way to bring the album to a close!

In a world full of chaos, it is practically impossible to avoid struggling with the darkest version of ourselves from time to time. Whenever we find ourselves in such a bleak state, what better way is there to usher the dark clouds away but to engage ourselves in a bit of brutal enlightenment provided by these Frenchmen. The escape from the undertow of life needn’t sound bleak.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Weavering
  2. At the Behest of Origins
  3. Above Humanity
  4. Swoon
  5. Lumen
  6. Message in Memories
  7. Blank Masses Inheritance
  8. He and the Sea
  9. The Overman
  10. Offering

Lineup

Nicolas Queste – vocals

Eliott Williame – drums

Benoit Creteur – bass

Maxime Delassus – lead guitars

Alex Orta – rhythm guitars

Label

Mascot Label Group

Links

https://www.facebook.com/stengahproject