Here’s a fun little pop quiz: how many supergroups can you name? Now how many supergroups can you name that have released two or more albums that were actually good? Put the latter over the former and divide, and that’s your percentage grade. Spoiler alert: everybody fails. That’s because supergroups are, generally speaking, not a good idea. Either compromise between the act’s disparate voices bleeds them of their creative vitality and results in a pile of grey sonic mush (let’s call it Giraffe Tongue Orchestra syndrome), or the established talents will coexist like hamsters knocking each other off a wheel, battling for control of the project’s voice from song to song, even measure to measure.
Enter Alkaloid, a five piece supergroup of low-key metal luminaries, whose current and former bands include Dark Fortress, Noneuclid, Spawn of Possession, Obscura, Necrophagist, Aborted, God Dethroned, and Blotted Science, that manages to do both. Their second album, Liquid Anatomy, is by turns brilliant, baffling and boring, a case study in the risks and rewards of plucking a bunch of talented folks from their respective bands and tossing them into a blender.
At first, the unpredictable duality of Liquid Anatomy is exciting. Album opener “Kernel Panic” starts out like some kind of spacey power grunge chimera before crashing into a gnarly death metal riff. “As Decreed By Laws Unwritten” has Gojira-esque swagger with ripping solos reminiscent of Jeff Loomis. A later track, “Chaos Theory and Practice”, swerves between mayhem and empty space, pounding momentum and lurching grooves. It’s these songs in which Alkaloid attempts to square their circles with at least half an eye towards cohesion, that their lack of focus produces something unique, even exceptional.
Unfortunately, the album as a whole is more like “Rise of the Cephalopods”, an interminable, twenty-minute slog through six movements, each of which has perhaps one or two interesting musical ideas. The rest is all unmotivated and repetitive, halfhearted variations on themes that hadn’t been all that compelling the first time. In other words, it’s the extreme metal equivalent of a student increasing the font size of their punctuation to meet the page count of their H.P. Lovecraft book report. Because yes, the Alkaloid boys, ‘take their musical references to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos seriously’. Le sigh.
Not incidentally, the first time I listened to Liquid Anatomy I genuinely thought its lyrics were satirizing overworn clichés of the genre, jerking as they do between space ships, sea monsters and screwball, just-discovered-the-thesaurus verbosity (‘Tardigrades conjoin the membranes / Polypoid biotechnology / Medusoid immortality / The dermis cast in chloroplasts’ being one of my favorite examples). I’ve subsequently gotten the impression that this is not the case, but I’m still not entirely sure. Even if the songs are offered in jest, though, the joke is largely at the listener’s expense.
More than anything, Liquid Anatomy is an immensely frustrating listen. There is some truly phenomenal material on this album, particularly in the two tracks highlighted below. Getting to that gold, however, requires sifting through loads and loads of not-so-gold, which in the end feels like a whole lot of effort for not enough payoff. The situation becomes even more dire with each subsequent relisten, as the gold loses its luster, and the dirt only gets deeper. The five members of Alkaloid are indisputably talented, but theirs are talents that seem to conflict and contradict more than they cooperate. Which is just another way of saying that, for all their apparent atypicality, they’re still a supergroup.
Notable Tracks: “Kernel Panic”; “As Decreed By Laws Unwritten”; “Chaos Theory And Practice”
FFO: Slugdge, Gojira, Allegaeon
Attain a perpetual imperative of enlightenment appertaining to Alkaloid‘s latest polypoidal, biotechnological metamorphoses by concatenating their informational excretions upon Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their official website.