Progressive Death Metal is a tough genre, especially the more exotic side of it. I’ve said this several times in the past few years and I will stand by that statement. It’s inherently complex nature, straddling the boundaries of several sub-genres and trying to mix them all together. Ultimately, the goal; emulating the approach of Cynic and creating a sound which has the right balance of complexity, exoticness and heaviness is no easy feat, and few can manage to come close. More often than not, the end result is either an over complicated mess with little to no coherence, or it is an average carbon copy of Cynic’s work.

French band Fractal Universe are an upcoming talent in this field of Progressive Death Metal and they certainly have the talent to deliver this kind of music. “Rhizomes Of Insanity” is the band’s latest offering and with the whole esoteric philosophical context behind the nomenclature aside, it certainly lives up to its name. The four piece employ a tight structure; guitars, bass, synths/programming, drums and a multi-vocal delivery and are no strangers to trying the extravagant or the outlandish in their composition – highly intricate rhythmic, melodic and ambient sequences all flow around each other, interwoven and oscillating in their intensity and which element is the prominent one at the time often dictating the direction the song takes. On a purely technical level, analytically speaking, “Rhizomes Of Insanity” is a solid musical construct which certainly delivers.

On the delivery level, actually experiencing the music is slightly different. Unless you are already accustomed to this kind of death metal/fusion style, then it can be extremely overwhelming. Polyrhythmic currents drive along the highly intricate sequences which are executed with an equal blend of technical brilliance and exotic flair. All of these are present throughout “Rhizomes Of Insanity” and opening track; “Oneric Realisations” delivers them well. There is the undeniable Cynic styled sound here so you know what is coming. Vocally, its a bit more raw than what you would expect. There are the classic Death Metal growls and roars, but there is also a real rawness in the clean vocals too, almost Gojira-esque in the delivery. Progressing through the release, it’s a similar story. The exotic and atmospheric impact of the subtle synths and samples compliment the melodic lines and effects used on the guitars. The bass is just right in the mix and the drums are mesmerizing in how effortless they are delivered.

“A Reality To Foreclose” has some fantastic atmospheric impacts. The haunting clean sections have a sinister touch to them as they ring out and the crashing distortion which kicks up the pace and intensity just compounds on this. The lead tone is superb, making the lead sequences and soloing in this track a joy to listen to and the intense and dramatic ending really wraps it up nicely. “Masterpiece’s Parallelism” is the opposite, less atmospheric impact and more surgical strike of intense proportions. Blistering paced verses which have an unbelievable technicality to the arrangements followed by a less intense but still highly complex chorus which has a fantastic melodic flow. It is like this across most of the release, flashes of intensity and complexity only commonly sighted in Technical Metal juxtaposed to the Progressive ambient manipulations and traditional Death Metal ferocity. Even the bonus track at the end of the album, an acoustic number has the intense and highly complex guitar sequences!

In all, despite the complexities, this is fairly straight forwards. Think Cynic and Gojira had a love child and you would be pretty close to how this comes across. It isn’t that unique given how many bands who deliver this kind of music will undoubtedly have a familiar sound to them due to the overwhelming influence of Cynic, but once you focus in on the music itself and disregard the obvious ties to the legendary band which is always mentioned, it’s a decent release provided you can keep up with it. At times it might all blur into one exotic mess and be hard to keep track of, but when you zero in on it and can follow it, “Rhizomes Of Insanity” is a solid album and a sign of promise for Fractal Universe.

(7/10 Fraggle)