About half of the bands that make up the roster on Sumerian Records have been taking on a much more progressive direction lately. Although this is something that the extremely successful label has always been known for, the progressive elements seem stronger now than they ever have been before. Before I get into the progressive death act The HAARP Machine, let’s take two seconds and reflect back on the reality of what new innovative elements have been introduced by Sumerian Records. The first is the extremely progressive and almost experimental record, Autotheism by California technical death band The Faceless. Along with that, we have a progressive metal whose success has been obtained so fast that they headlined the tour supporting the release of their first album, Periphery. Now, there also seems to be more non-metal music on Sumerian Records than just Borgore. A really fucking weird, but absolutely amazing experimental rock quartet known as TRAM (featuring one of the greatest guitarists ever, Tosin Abasi). So after all that, a progressive deathcore band (Veil of Maya), a solo album by The Faceless bassist Evan Brewer, and a yet-to-be-released solo record by Animals as Leaders rhythm guitarist Javier Reyes, one would stop and say “wait, we need some good ol’ progressive death in this mix”. That’s when The HAARP Machine steps in.
There are a lot of progressive death albums that get released every year. But for me, I tend to be VERY picky when it comes to my beloved progressive death section in my library. The only truly great progressive death albums (that I’ve heard so far) from 2011 are Amorphis’ The Beginning of Times, Between the Buried and Me’s EP, Falluja’s The Harvest Wombs, and Mayan’s Quarterpast. That’s FOUR (I repeat) FOUR albums. Only FOUR out of however many progressive death albums were released that year. 2012 is even worse. So far, I’ve only got The Contortionist’s Intrinsic and Meshuggah’s Koloss (which only got a 14/20 score from me). The first reaction someone would have upon seeing this is the lowering of standards in case they’re too high (which happens to everybody, there’s nothing wrong with that). But there’s no need for that, The HAARP Machine debut with something that I’ve PERSONALLY witnessed amaze even the utmost critical reviewers.
My overall experience of repeatedly listening to Disclosure since about a week before its release has been like no other. There are several qualities of Disclosure that are extremely familiar to me and are things that I’ve heard before in several other bands. Of course, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to have there be at least SOME familiar sounds in your music so that the listener can have SOMETHING to be able to grab onto instantly so that they can then be pulled along through all of the new and unfamiliar sounds. The most familiar element that The HAARP Machine has in their music can be guessed easily by anyone who is at all familiar with Sumerian Records and the one thing that 90% of its bands have in common: those abstract and complex rhythmic patterns that were popularized by Meshuggah (often times referred to as “djent”). Of course, Sumerian Records isn’t the only place you’ll hear this kind of stuff, but it seems that almost all of the bands have this thing in common. And you know what? As stupid and “trendy” as it may seem, look at how much fucking success the bands are obtaining because of that! Because they have that one solid element that any metalhead can easily grasp onto because they’re already familiar with it, bands can then do literally whatever the fuck they want from there. For example, the screamo band I See Stars has that “djent” sound in their music (although it’s less profound than other bands out there), and then they switch back and forth between playing an energetic melodic screamo sound and really poppy techno while randomly throwing in some pop rock in here and there. Except the things that The HAARP Machine put on top of that “djent” style is nothing that I think has ever been done before.
The first thing that you hear when you press the “play” button is a sitar. Ok, where the hell did that come from? I don’t know, but obviously, I can tell just by looking at the band that one of the members has some sort of middle-eastern background. And when the fact that the sitars used today came out of 18th century India is put into place, it is easily seen that this guy known as Al Mu’min is not only Indian, but is also the core creative mechanism inside The HAARP Machine. I can understand that when you’re just reading this, it really doesn’t sound like anything all that special. But once you actually LISTEN to Esoteric Agenda, the mystical atmosphere that the sitar creates is something so alien to most metalheads. So what I’ve described so far is a very technical death metal record with complex rhythmic patterns and a sitar. The next thing that I should mention is the melodic death influence (as well as the synthesized bongos that appear at random about three or four times throughout the album).
Not only does the melodic death influence seep into the instrumental section, but also into the vocals; which then gives it away that there is singing present in almost every song on this record. Now I’m not aware of the specific influences that The HAARP Machine has listed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Periphery was one of them. Why? Remember in Periphery’s self-titled debut where the singing purposefully went off-key every so often and how much impact it had on the whole flow of the music? Well, the singing on this album does that, except more than Periphery. In fact, it fits The HAARP Machine’s sound even MORE than Periphery’s because of the atmosphere created by the sitar and the unique guitar harmonizations. I should have mentioned a little bit before that we should still be focusing on Esoteric Agenda, because everything that I’m talking about is present and easily heard in this one song. So after the intro and the blasting death metal section and the…what seems to be something that COULD be a breakdown but doesn’t exactly sound like one, you get a deep crushing section with that really weird singing that sticks to the right key for about 87% of the time. What the fuck? Only that much? On first glance, that just sounds outright disgusting! Who the hell would want to hear out-of-key singing? Ok, now to repeat what I said before to make sure it sticks in your head: you will realize what I’m talking about once you LISTEN to the damn thing.
Because I’m a bassist, it’s almost a requirement for ANY progressive band to have at least a WAY better-than-average bassist. I don’t know why, but it’s just something that, if missing, the band just doesn’t sound as good as other people describe to me. That’s why I instantly gave my nod of approval when The HAARP Machine released that YouTube video of Pleiadian Keys. If you can’t hear what I’m talking about, replay THE FIRST TEN SECONDS of the fucking song before you continue reading what’s left of this review. The extremity of the bassist’s technicality is something that I hunger for, but don’t get very often outside of the technical death realms (i.e. Obscura, The Faceless, Atheist, Spawn of Possession, etc.). Not only is the bassist capable of phenomenal technicality, he also has a talent for playing with extremely bold colors and dynamics. When he takes the spotlight in songs like Pleiadian Keys and Extension to One, the bassist flows in-and-out of the complex harmonies created by the guitars while creating the structure for even further guitar harmonization and other possible innovations. The guitarists are just something completely off the board. Maybe that’s a SLIGHT exaggeration, but there are very few people that I would have to worry about giving me a hard time for saying that.
The HAARP Machine’s Disclosure is definitely the best progressive death record of 2012, with The Contortionist’s Intrinsic coming VERY close behind. So close, in fact, that Disclosure even has the same 18/20 score that I gave Intrinsic when I reviewed it in late August. I can’t imagine a type of extreme metal fan that I WOULDN’T recommend this album to. So look it up, watch the trippy video for Pleiadian Keys that’s on YouTube, and then once you’re done with that, demand that The HAARP Machine come to your city after you’ve bought the album.