The Scalar Process - Coagulative Matter - (7.5/10)
Published on February 14, 2021
Let’s be honest for a moment: music is only as good as its listeners. Whatever feats of skill or creativity an artist manages to pack into their songs, the true value of that ingenuity will only be measured by the reaction it receives. Indeed, if the writing and performance of music alienate its listeners, the music itself can barely be shown to a wider audience, especially in the current climate of information sharing, where the combined weight of negative reactions gains critical mass pretty fast. Therefore, artists must always have listeners in mind when writing and recording music, not only to ensure a platform for the continued dissemination of their art, but also to seek the end that most artists desire – confirmation that their ideas are good.
Turn that thought onto the sub-genre of technical and progressive extreme metal, like a spotlight onto a single seat in a crowd. Here sits a group of artists who entertain precisely because they aim to alienate listeners, either through incomprehensible acts of technicality or unthinkable heaviness. In fact, to be in accordance with fans’ desires, these musicians should frequently court the attention of naysayers and aim for a kind of elite who can tolerate the style despite a lack of catchy, memorable, and heartfelt content. Technical metal in particular seems to come with an essentially inhuman, unfeeling manifesto: we don’t care about music’s emotional qualities, just about its technical aspects. But perhaps that’s where we ought to draw a line. Because of course that unemotional quality is itself an emotional choice, and of course the music’s inaccessibility serves the purpose of restricting access and forming an elite listening group. Music that alienates remains alien in nature, and that can be counted as an attraction too.
Though not the most extreme exponent of them all, The Scalar Process certainly follow the same line of reasoning. Brutally irregular drum rhythms shower out from “Cosmic Flow” along with churning deep growls from Mathieu Lefevre, only to be severed by cloying ambience that descends from nowhere, a toxic mist falling from a stroboscopic thunderstorm. If 2 features only could be used to describe Coagulative Matter, it is surely the juxtaposition between these elements of cataclysmic chaos and sinister calm. The celestial weather system generated by the band hardly quietens for the 50 minute album, odd chemical components forming and reacting as fast as their volatility allows. The main substances are all provided by Eloi Nicod (also of Dawohl), who here performs all guitars, bass, and keyboards: he throws together stiff, chlorinated tech death riffing, shimmering lithium backing melodies, lush oxygenated clean playing, mercurial lead guitar runs, and sulphuric synths that hover just above ground level. However, without the combustible drumming of Clément Denys, the crowded universe of Coagulative Matter would feel far different.
The musical environment of this formation remains harsh, mysterious, and difficult to chart. Although not unknown in a universe where Beyond Creation, The Zenith Passage, and Necrophagist live and breathe, experiencing The Scalar Process feels akin to observing a new-found planet that has no solid crust or perceptible landscape. Each song on this debut is analogous to another scan of the same terrain, showing difference and even nuance each time yet ultimately emphasizing its otherness. Even when “Mirror Cognition” liquefies the whole volatile concoction for most of its length, the foreignness of the smoother, jazzy jamming never removes tension from the equation, which eventually results in 30 seconds of violent teardown at the close of the track. In different style, though to much the same effect, most of the longer cuts are composed of the same tessellated riffing, meaning that quite discrete sections sound notionally similar. Only in the bigger picture does Coagulative Matter actually appear unified, while the molecular level buzzes with activity.
Necessarily, listeners are tested and selectively admitted or denied access to these musical realms according to their own feel for alienation. Concessions to hooks or memorable parts never enter the template of The Scalar Process, though nor does the album as a whole attempt to overwhelm with technicality to the exclusion of atmosphere or pleasing moments. The first couple of minutes of the extended title track prove that the group can relay a song approximately how most listeners would expect, not to mention that the otherworldly lead sections have a relaxed ambience counter to the pummelling of the verses. What remains to be seen is just how many listeners will proclaim Coagulative Matter to be worthy. The tentative trio’s first venture leaves out some of the bothersome rhythmic nothings of some tech and djent, but also refuses to push the envelope in terms of complexity, while the death metal parts constitute an extremely narrow range of expression. True enough, the key contrast between clinical rhythms and nebulous atmosphere remains throughout, though the inequality of the parts – the tepidity of the former and the luxuriance of the latter – may end up as the most telling single feature.