Album Title: Genesis
Label: Frontiers Music
Date of Release: 12 February 2021
Riding high on the crest of a wave of enthusiasm and inspiration, I am delighted to bring you this review for a new discovery. The band are called Simulacrum, meaning ‘an image or representation of someone or something’, and they are a progressive metal band hailing from Finland. I say that they are a new discovery, but there’s something niggling in the back of my mind to suggest that I may have come across them before. But whilst it remains an irritating niggle, I’ll treat this as a new discovery.
For those in the same boat as I, some background might be helpful. Simulacrum are a septet, with some unusual instruments getting exposure within their music, as the following roll call will attest. Simulacrum are comprised of Christian “Chrism” Pulkkinen (keyboards & orchestrations), Nicholas “Solomon” Pulkkinen (guitars, Bowed Harp and Bark Horn), Niklas Broman (vocals), Erik Kraemer (vocals), Tatu Turunen (drums and percussion), Petri Mäkilä (guitars), and Olli Hakala – bass, chapman stick & electric upright)
It may come as no surprise to learn that the music of Simulacrum, at least at the outset, is just as busy and overwhelming as the size of the band. This is intense music that never stops for a second, is full of different styles, and is multi-layered to the point where it’s almost impossible to decide exactly what to focus on. At least, that’s the initial feeling I got when listening to ‘Genesis’, and I’d like to think I’m a hardened listener of progressive music.
Over time, as familiarity seeps in, so does a greater understanding of exactly what’s going on with the Simulacrum sound. At it’s heart, there’s a strong thread of progressive power metal, meaning that we get some upbeat tempos, melody, and musicianship. But it isn’t as simple as leaving it there with Simulacrum though, because they also inject elements of thrash metal, djent, and modern metal into their music. And have I mentioned musicianship? Because these guys can seriously play, with plenty of flashy solos and embellishments all over the place, from just about every corner of the band. Some may well disagree with me but, for the most part, the showmanship doesn’t overshadow the compositions or come across as frivolous fluff. I’ve always enjoyed the more ostentatious side of progressive music, so long as it doesn’t veer into overly self-indulgent territory. And by-and-large, despite getting dangerously close at times, Simulacrum just about avoid this pitfall in my opinion.
Delving into the music itself, and the opening track, ‘Traumatized’ is a great way for the Finns to introduce their third full-length album. The modern aspect of their sound looms large from the outset, as a bass bomb signals the introduction of a brisk riff, laced with lashings of modern-sounding synths, before the riffs beef up further alongside some semi-gruff bruising vocals. And then, just as I’m beginning to feel incredibly confused, in storms the prog-power melody, accented by a higher-pitched vocal delivery, which then segues into a soaring, melodic chorus that’s hook laden and catchy. The ‘Amaranthe’ synth sounds continue as the band indulge in key, guitar, and bass solos, the latter being the most impressive in my opinion. We’re then pulled back willingly to the bold chorus. It’s a great song once you get to grips with it, with echoes of Symphony X, Lost In Thought, Pagan’s Mind, as well as any number of more modern djent-influenced prog acts.
In contrast, the keys at the beginning of ‘Nothing Remains’ are more 70s and 80s flavoured, whilst the brisk pace and intense delivery of the song has a lot more in common with power metal, despite a hint of thrash within the riffs if I’m not mistaken. Again, there are plenty of melodies to uncover, as the musicians do their level best to throw as much at us as possible. Solos from everywhere, embellishments and flourishes that dazzle – it’s like listening to the musical equivalent of a five-year-old at Christmas. On the one hand, it’s exhausting, but on the other, it has a definite charm.
The melodic, djent-infused intro to ‘Arrhythmic Distortions’ is a big highlight for me, especially as the song continues in an equally impressive vein, with some impossibly high vocals, a bright and breezy feel, complexity, and lots of catchy melodies that get stronger with every passing listen.
If I had anything to criticise at this point, it’d be the production, which I think just adds a little to the sense of busyness and intensity that is a hallmark of the Simulacrum approach. I’m not a tech-minded person, so it might be down to a number of things, but I do feel tired after I’ve listened to the album that’s for sure. That’s not to say that it’s a bad production though, because the music is powerful enough and clear enough to do the music justice.
Back to the compositions again, and the undeniable flagship of ‘Genesis’, has to be the epic four-part title track that clocks in at over 30 minutes. Although divided, it is clearly intended to be a single piece, as each part seamlessly segues into the next. As technical and intelligent as the previous tracks undoubtedly are, it is here that Simulacrum indulge in their theatrical, dramatic and full-on progressive side. Interesting time signatures, instrumental passages, and experimentation with other styles of music all plat their part. Take Part 1, ‘The Celestial Architect’ as an example. It offers a delicious guitar solo atop more whimsical percussion and synths, but in the lead-up, I hear death/black metal aggression, particularly in the drumming, albeit short-lived.
There’s a playfulness that’s hard to ignore and even more difficult to not fall for throughout this ambitious body of work. In many ways, the sense of exploration and quirkiness in places calls to mind early Dream Theater and more latterly, early Haken, circa ‘Aquarius’. ‘Evolution of Man’, the second part, is all-out instrumental dexterity that is handled nicely to largely avoid the ‘self-indulgent’ tag, principally because the music remains interesting and engaging, especially towards the end thanks to the more relaxed piano and bass-led section which continues into ‘The Human Equation’ to be replaced by a solo, dramatic piano throughout, as well as theatrical-sounding layered vocals. ‘End Of Entropy’ is the title of the final part, and as a composition, it feels like it’s a culmination of everything that’s gone before. Progressive, powerful, technical, interesting; it has it all including brief acoustic moments and occasional spoken-words. I would have loved another killer, final melody, or a reprise of an earlier chorus, but this is a minor comment that doesn’t ultimately detract from the strength of the overall composition.
All things being equal, I have nothing but respect for what Simulacrum have created here with ‘Genesis’. I may have a couple of minor criticisms, but that’s all they are and in spite of them, I return to listen to ‘Genesis’ frequently and gladly. When I am faced with progressive metal of this calibre, it reminds me just why I love the genre, and why I’d consider it my favourite form of metal music. Nicely done, chaps.
The Score of Much Metal: 89%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: