Things seem to be going very well for New York’s Artificial Brain; the band’s unique brand of technical, blackened, science fiction-infused death metal continues to find new audiences. Their second album, Infrared Horizon has been well-received and they have an upcoming tour, opening for Cattle Decapitation.
Like any good up-and-coming band, Artificial Brain play gigs everywhere within driving distance, and for them, that includes Montreal. This gave us the perfect opportunity in August to have a chat with Sam (bass) and John (guitar) outside the city’s Piranha venue, right after they finished soundcheck.
Raw, Dirty, and Atmospheric
John tells us a bit about what Artificial Brain sounds like: ‘I guess what we’re going for is… we want to make dissonant, weird music but music that still has melodic hooks and more emotional content, like complicated emotional content. So it’s not just crazy dissonance. Black metal combined with guttural death metal.‘
Tech-death bands tend to play continuous leads. Artificial Brain play a variant on this theme, having riffs with ringing guitar parts laid over them. About this, John said ‘that’s more of the melodies of our tunes. We focus more on the riffs. That’s more of our main focal point. I guess it’s from the music that we listen to.‘ As one might expect, it all starts with the guitar. John adds: ‘Most of the music is written by one of us and he’s not with us right now. That’s Dan, he’s in Revocation. He’s on tour with them right now in Europe somewhere. But he writes most of the music and then we get together and hash out the guitar parts together. We’ll change stuff. Once we have all the guitar parts together, we’ll go add the other instruments.‘
The tech-death genre has evolved over the years. Nineties bands like Death and Atheist tended towards some atmosphere and distance in the sounds of their albums; this has changed lately. Put on an album by Obscura, Replacire, or Psycroptic to hear almost no reverb; an in-your-face sound that makes it like the band is in your living room. Drawing inspiration from black metal, Artificial Brain take an ultra-’verbed, wall of sound approach that makes 90s bands seem minimalist in comparison.
Sam said that ‘it has something to do with that we are really interested in black metal and we want to make atmospheric, evocative music; as well as making aggressive music. Having really pristine sound, samples replacing drums, stuff like that doesn’t work for us because we want it to sound as raw and as humanly energetic as possible. And sometimes having that cavernous reverb kind of vibe helps us to create sounds like, don’t sound like a metal band playing guitars.‘ On this topic, John also said: ‘We really like the natural sound. Ya know? Like we’re playing the music live. When you see us live, we hope to have it as accurate as we had it when we recorded it. We don’t want it to sound completely different from when you see us.‘
While many self-proclaimed experts will insist a backing track is always necessary (one commentator recently quipped ‘How else are you going to trigger MIDI?‘), Artificial Brain confirm they do not use one live.
Recording Infrared Horizon
This ‘raw and real’ ethos might lead some to believe Artificial Brain jam everything live in studio. Not so. ‘We recorded all the tracks separately but the tracks are as ‘intact’ as we could possibly make them,‘ said Sam, ‘We tried to use full takes when we could, with minimal overdubbing. You know if there was like a big mistake on an otherwise perfect take or one that we really liked, then maybe we’d ‘punch-in’ for that. We tried to keep the performances as ‘human’ as possible so even if like there were little mistakes, we would leave them. Colin Marston (Gorguts, Behold… The Arctopus, Kralice), who produced the record, that’s his personal aesthetic. We share that vision with him. That’s why they sound the way they do.‘
Many readers might not know this, but there was a time when going into an actual studio to record an album was not a matter for debate. Up to the year 2000 or so, home recording was a joke. These days, though, anyone can set up a DAW on a computer, put up some acoustic treatment in their practice space or basement, and save thousands of dollars on recording an album. This makes the decision to go into an actual studio with a ‘name’ producer like Colin Marston pivotal, particularly for a young band like Artificial Brain.
Sam justified this decision enthusiastically. ‘With Labyrinth Constellation, we had a really specific vision of how we wanted the record to sound. We love Colin’s music. At that point, he was in Gorguts but Colored Sands had not yet come out. I used to go see Behold…The Arctopus when I was a kid. And certainly Dysrhythmia, Krallice. He’s been in all these bands. We like the bands he produced. We like the sound. We figured it would be a good investment to just record the thing with him, then see once we had this pretty polished (as in, professionally done at least) recording; then we could shoot it to labels, and that’s how we got on Profound Lore. We wanted to have something done before we went to labels. That was part of our reason for going to Colin.‘
Being close by did not hurt, either. Marston’s studio in Queens, NY is, according to John ‘about a 15 minute drive from where we live‘ in Long Island.
Sam said: ‘A lot of the way that we use dissonance is to either contrast these more consonant parts, or to have a consonant part that’s a bit ‘screwed with.’ Because it has a dissonant ‘vein’ running through it.‘
Indeed, dissonance is the opposite of melody. Sam elaborated: ‘What I said earlier about the music being focused on melody and harmony seems like generally the opposite of what people describe us as. Maybe it surprises some people that we think of our music that way. We get called ‘dissonant’ and ‘ugly’ all the time.‘
John had a much more abrupt take on writing advice for other young bands: ‘Don’t think too hard and write riffs.‘