Friday, September 15, 2017

Album Review: Galaktikon II: Become The Storm

“Galaktikon II: Become the Storm” reminds us of a lot of different ideas.  That a rose by any other name can smell as sweet.  That it’s always good to have a backup plan.  That bands and artists can change and evolve.  That metal often takes itself too seriously, and needs to be kicked in the head about it by someone with better perspective.  Perhaps the most important lesson, if we can be allowed to pontificate for a moment, is that in these times when the educational system and the economy as a whole encourage specialization, a person can simultaneously be more than one thing.  You can be a show creator, producer, music maker, any and everything, all at the same time.

Skipping over the legalese of why this album isn’t by Dethklok, what we have here with “Become the Storm” is the opportunity to enjoy more Dethklok-style music under a new name.  You’ll note the use of “Dethklok-style,” because while “Become the Storm” could just as easily be another Dethalbum, the appellation Galaktikon was not to be ignored.

For those who had forgotten, Galaktikon’s first album was released by Brendon Small in 2012 as a side project while he waited for some Dethklok contracts to clear.  This side project (or so we thought at the time,) was meant to be, even more than Dethklok, a dramatic, guitar-driven metal experience, emphasizing clean vocals, big choruses and more than anything else, the idiomatic twin guitar sound of the late 1970s.  The resulting record was a powerhouse, as Small is not only a clever wit and prolific writer, but also a calculating guitar shredder.

And so, in this new record, we see not solely Dethklok or Galaktikon, but a healthy composite of both, from which the entire experience profits.

The listener need not get far to find all possible permutations of the two bands.  “Icarus Six Sixty Six” (perhaps a nod to Iron Maiden – a combination of “Flight of Icarus” and “Flight 666,”) is very much a Dethklok song.  Small snarls his lyrics and bites into his guitar riffs, all set against the always metronomic pulse of Gene Hoglan’s double kick.

Two songs later, “The Ocean Galaktik” is through and through from the Galaktikon catalogue.  It’s a storytelling song, played out over seven minutes through multiple characters and phases, filled with flourish and ascendant chord progressions.  The very blood of “Prophecy of the Lazer Witch” flows in these veins.

Yet, in between the two, we get “The Agenda,” and now we’ve hit upon something interesting.  This is perhaps the album’s single best synthesis of the two bands.  There’s a pounding, growled intro, but the bridge is flighty and accessible, a pattern which repeats in the second half of the song as though it were a play in two acts.

And we’re only four songs in at this point.  The rest of “Become the Storm,” oscillates between one sound or the other, often leaning in one direction but always within the Venn diagram of Brendon Small’s musical idiom.

Worth mentioning just as a spectator is the concept that in Galaktikon we’re now seeing Dethklok made manifest in flesh, no longer a group of musicians playing characters, but a group of musicians as just that.  The metal realm makes room for all manner of executions of this dynamic – GWAR is musicians as physical characters, Dethklok was musicians as virtual characters, and now Galaktikon is, in a sense, virtual characters turned into physical musicians.  Naturally, nature abhors a vaccuum, so in the absence of Dethklok, that void was immediately filled by Pentakill; even more strange since Pentakill represents a corporately-assembled virtual metal band.

Let’s not get lost in the shuffle of existential crises and naming conventions, though.  “Galaktikon II: Become the Storm” works because Small is a unique talent and understands the constructions of what makes metal work, perhaps even better than many genre ‘insiders’ (although Small himself is probably an insider at this point.)  As we mentioned in the open, let this be a reminder to the ‘metaller-than-thou’ among us – great music often defies convention.

While I personally might have liked to see a touch more leaning on the artistry of Small’s twin guitar dynamic, “Become the Storm” doesn’t really suffer for not having it.  It’s an enjoyable album played by talented musicians who know how to utilize open space and combine multiple affects into a single composition.  Many bands could learn from this.  No matter what the name on the front, this is a great record.

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