Released: 2015, Self-released
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
French prog/tech/death newbies Fractal Universe are obviously no slouches when it comes to musicianship – if shred's your thing, these guys deliver it by the gob-smacking truckload. But they've still got a thing or two – or more – to learn when it comes to songcraft, an all-to-common trait among their ilk.
Fractal Universe can at least be cut a little slack. The band really only coalesced as a unit as they were putting together their four-track, self-released debut EP late last year, which didn't leave much time for fine-tuning or refining the material to make it much more than a technical showcase. So while Boundaries of Reality is big on instrumental prowess, mind-boggling complexity and brazen ambition, it lacks a certain soul or at least something meaty to really sink your teeth into once you get past the virtuosic performances.
The EP actually starts with a bit of subterfuge, as its eerie, goth orchestral pomp immediately brings to mind Cradle of Filth before “Mourning The Loss of a Dim Glance” launches into a tornado of fleet-fingered guitaring, thrumming bass and breakneck drumming. It's near constant motion for eight minutes, though the more relaxed, jazzier section about two-thirds in allows a moment to catch one's breath. The lyrics seem almost an afterthought here, wedged in wherever there is space amid, and sometimes atop, the myriad twists and turns, which makes for some awkward patterns for Vince Wilquin's Schuldiner-esque rasp.
Better is the more textured and less busy “Tears of Misanthropy” with its recognizable riffs - and actual chorus - and effective back and forth dynamics that recall Germany's Obscura. Same goes for the title track, which offers a lot more flash in the lead guitar pyro of Wilquin and Hugo Florimond – who are as formidable a tandem as they come - but retains just enough structure to hold it all together. Wilquin's vocals are especially menacing here as the title track provides the EP's heaviest moments.
It's not really the kind of stuff mosh-minded folks are going to find all that interesting. The songs are more of cerebral exercise, something for guitar nerds to pore over, study and try to mimic in the hopes that maybe one day they can play just that much fancier or fast. Good luck.
Same goes for “Starless Aether,” though in a different context. It offers a lot of spacey progressive noodling and sci-fi shenanigans a la The Faceless or Periphery and seems more a collection of abstract ideas strewn about a canvas than an actual song. Again, it's impeccably played, but comes off as somewhat empty.
A bit of seasoning and touring will hopefully help these guys hone their songwriting chops and find some kind of middle ground between musicianship and musicality. There are enough ultra-technical death metal bands as it it, we don't really need one more.