Fractal Gates - The Light That Shines - (8/10)
Published on February 13, 2019
Fairly often it seems that greatness is as much a matter of timing than it is simply a matter of competency, at least in the eyes of those with a limited threshold for a given stylistic expression. Melodic death metal is largely at a disadvantage because it lacks the sort of cult-like devotion that more extreme versions of death metal have in their fanbase due to its more accessible demeanor towards the wider musical world, and is simultaneously subject to said larger scene’s finicky nature. To put it bluntly, there isn’t really anything terribly innovative coming out of the brutal or grindcore scenes of late when compared with the succession that a newer tier melodeath band like France’s Fractal Gates has brought about, nor has anybody in any sub-genre really managed to reinvent the wheel in the past 20 years. As such, this band, like many others of their persuasion that have cropped up in the past decade or so and focused on a sound that has been fairly established since the early 2000s, should be judged relative to the quality of their respective output, and it is here that Fractal Gates’ third opus The Light That Shines stands as a strong improvement over their last two outings.
The formula at play here is pretty straightforward, drawing upon the dense, atmospheric aesthetic that encompasses much of the Finnish take on the style of late, particularly in bands such as Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium. They bill themselves as having a progressive caveat to their craft, but apart from a somewhat more technical guitar display that reminds pretty heavily of Skyfire and a richer array of ambient sounds coming from the keyboards to give things a bit more of an ethereal flavor, the extent by which this album veers outside of the common formula under consideration is fairly minimal. Their vocal display follows the sort of deep, guttural growling character employed by Jukka Pelkonen (Omnium Gatherum), with maybe a slight bit more of a whispery character at times, which melds nicely with the layered harmonies of guitars and keyboard drones. In essence, this album is a bit more geared towards an overall sound aesthetic rather than a lone gimmick that sets them apart from their influences, though the tech happy, Michael Amott meets Martin Hanner guitar soloing approach that litters most of these songs could be construed as a blatant deviation from an otherwise uniform approach meant to draw attention.
Perhaps the greatest charm that this album possesses, and arguably also its greatest weakness, is that it is fairly simply presented from a songwriting standpoint. Shorter running anthems like “Arise”, “Infinity” and the fairly concise title song “The Light That Shines” have more of a straightforward song-like format to them that comes off as almost comparable to Arch Enemy at times, though it differs heavily in terms of atmospheric density here despite these songs being among the more impact-based and fast-paced of the bunch. Even the more stretched out songs like “Sea Of Flames” and “Faceless” don’t waste much time in getting to this album’s version of the meat and potatoes of things, though there are greater occasions for getting lost in the atmosphere of things due to all of the various moving parts that cycle in and out at the top end of the arrangement. That is arguably how this album achieves some degree of progressive credentials, as it actually outclasses even the deep textures of Be’Lakor and Insomnium in terms of sheer density and may actually overload the listener’s ears with moving parts, causing things to be missed during the first listen.
What ultimately sets this album above the previous two installments of the Fractal Gates sound is that these songs manage to be a bit memorable, in spite of occasionally being easy to mistake for something off of one of the last couple Omnium Gatherum albums to the untrained ear. The recurring theme of brief keyboard interludes that are affectionately known as the “Visions” series prove to be a continually interesting touch, allowing for the band to further justify their outward obsession with the empyreal realm, and here also showcasing an affinity for the sort of industrial-like soundtrack music of films of the modern tinge such as that Tom Cruise flick from 2013 Oblivion. It’s by no means the best thing to ever come out of the genre and it probably won’t win any new converts to it, but those either already in the melodeath congregation or otherwise flirting with joining it will find an entertaining and mildly distinctive experience to complement their diet of keyboard rich and guitar happy Finnish goodness, albeit with a French accent.