Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon – Album Review

Artist: Fractal Universe

Album Title: The Impassable Horizon

Label: Metal Blade Records

Date of Release: 25 June 2021

Another review that comes to you a little time after the release date, but one that has most definitely benefitted from the increased breathing space away from the pressure of publishing prior to hitting the shelves. I say this because I was initially rather ambivalent about the material on ‘The Impassable Horizon’, by Fractal Universe.

‘The Impassable Horizon’ is the third full-length release by Fractal Universe, a French quartet, who formed back in 2013, and who sit somewhere within the progressive, technical death metal subgenre. Up until now, I’ve had a passing interest in the band, but their previous efforts have not ever stuck with me enough to find their way onto the digital pages of manofmuchmetal.com, or their CDs into my collection. I thought that this third release would head the same way at the outset, but as it turns out, I was wrong.

For a start, there is more than a mere smattering of saxophone within some of the compositions here. Anyone who knows me, knows my thoughts about the inclusion of such an instrument in heavy metal. I’m getting more broad-minded, but I still cannot fathom why anyone would want a sax blaring out when you could have a guitar solo or embellishment. I know that many will argue that it offers another interesting dimension, another layer, and another texture to the music. But when you don’t really like the sound of the instrument in the first place, and much of its output tends towards the discordant, these arguments are difficult to get on board with, despite their merit to the less narrow-minded amongst us.

Inevitably then, when I started to explore ‘The Impassable Horizon’, these sax moments would stick in my mind for all the wrong reasons. But, with repeated listens, I started to notice all the intricacies, all the little moments of subtle melody, all the intricate time signatures, rhythms, grooves, and suddenly the saxophone moments became less important. So much so, that I have found myself properly falling for the charms of this album and have had it on frequent rotation over the past couple of weeks.

The ferocity that you might expect from a tech death metal band is evident right from the word go, as the Gallic quartet, comprised of guitarist/vocalist/saxophonist Vince Wilquin, guitarist Hugo Florimond, bassist Valentin Pelletier, and drummer Clément Denys come out of the gates swinging. Double pedal drumming, walls of sound from the combined might of the guitars and swathes of keys, and a complex but ear-catching lead guitar line form the opening to ‘Autopoeisis’, a song that gets better every time I hear it. The technicality is impressive, with an ability by all four to vary the pace and intensity in a heartbeat. But the technical prowess is cleverly and smoothly blended with intriguing melodies that contain more hooks than initially thought. I also like the way that the vocals flit from menacing, angry growl to a soft, clean delivery that increases the impact of the melodies and acts as a great counterpoint to the complexity of the musicianship.

The high quality continues with ‘A Clockwork Expectation’ which remains heavy and abrasive, but almost entirely ditches the growls in favour of clean singing. At points, I’m reminded of Darkane strangely enough, but these are fleeting moments. It’s the first song to feature the sax, but because the melodies, contrasts, and rhythms are so strong, I can just about let them go. The moments of serenity are gorgeous and well-placed, helping to counteract the off-kilter, djent-like riffs and rhythms that also play a part within the composition.

It’s much the same story as the album progresses too, with almost every one of the eleven tracks delivering high quality progressive and technical death metal, whilst fully keeping my attention. And that’s down, primarily, to the fact that each composition, whilst complex and occasionally rather challenging, also offers a hook, a melody, a clever groove, or something to keep me coming back for listen after listen. ‘Symmetrical Masquerade’ for example, marries some soothing, delicate sounds, dominated by a pulsating bass heartbeat, with flurries of abrasive speed and competing textures aplenty.

What I also admire greatly is the way that Fractal Universe are able to pull all these ideas and textures together in a manner that is not bloated or over-indulgent. The majority of the tracks last between four and five minutes, with only one touching eight minutes. That song, ‘Godless Machinists’, is the album’s finale aside from an acoustic epilogue, but it deserves every second of it’s extended life, moving effortlessly between a multitude of disparate ideas, culminating in one of my absolute favourite, beautiful melodies on ‘The Impassable Horizon’.

Other moments worthy of note are numerous, although I’m a big fan of the out-and-out muscular presence of ‘Falls Of The Earth’, and the blitz of swirling, warp-speed complexity of ‘Withering Snowdrops’ that’s coupled with an insanely catchy chorus, so bright and breezy that you can’t help but get caught up in it. And, being a black metal fan too, I like the nod towards this genre that can be heard in the echoes of ‘A Cosmological Arch’, thanks to possibly the fastest blastbeats to be heard on the record, alongside some spiky riffing and a whole lot more besides.

The biggest compliment I can pay to ‘The Impassable Horizon’ is that I look forward to listening to it each and every time I get the opportunity. So much so, I have not stopped playing it, even when presented with a promo for the new At The Gates record. And what’s more, each time I spin it, something new catches my ear, keeping the experience fresh and exciting. I hope that speaks volumes for the high regard in which I hold this album. After flashes of promise, Fractal Universe have delivered the album which has finally turned me into a fan. Complex, heavy, multi-faceted, and intelligent, ‘The Impassable Horizon’ is a very fine release indeed.

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Further reviews from 2021:

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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