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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Alchemist

Organasm

Review by Mike Korn

It may sound like a hoary cliche, but this is one of those records that comes along only once in a great while. From the far shores of Australia, Alchemist are truly one of the most original heavy metal bands I've heard. Lyrically and thematically, they have virtually nothing in common with the metal genre. Their lyrics are positive without being preachy and spacey without being pretentious. There's a kind of organic, earthy feel to their brand of metal and yet it also is teeming with a kind of cosmic majesty. To be perfectly truthful, "Organasm" is a record you really have to hear to understand. The puny verbal descriptions I'm attempting to utilize only hint at its content.

Don't be fooled, this is a metal band. Indeed, it's very, very heavy when it wants to be, but it definitely is not death or black metal. Perhaps New Age Metal is a better description, as there are certainly passages of soothing melody interspersed with the crunching riffs. Even the real heavy parts never seem that abrasive, though they will be sure to induce rabid mosh pits. Tribal drumming and an almost world beat approach to rhythm underlie most of Alchemist's music. Vocalist Adam Agius is pretty unique, with a low Type O Negative style bass approach mixed with a rougher hardcore shout and an absolutely horrific black metal shriek that surpasses anything I've ever heard in my life.

"Organasm" is a journey through a different musical landscape, dense with mystical textures and challenging ideas. It's the most unique metal record I've heard in the last 10 years!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Austral Spectrum
The album begins with the buzzing hum of the Australian native instrument, the didigeroo. Then the heavy riffs kick in. The song has that psychedelic, uplifting feel to it that typifies Alchemist's material. There's some mysterious reflective passages before the track picks up pace and returns into a bludgeoning metal number. Watch out for Agius' ripping shriek!
The Evolution Trilogy
The Bio Approach
The first of a 3-song trilogy dealing with the origin and destiny of life on earth, this begins subtly, almost like a New Age synthesizer song, before a gradually intensifying guitar riff takes over. This is truly progressive metal that actually tries to advance the genre instead of aping Queensryche, Dream Theater, et al.
Rampant Macro Life
Part 2 of the trilogy also begins slowly, with a mournful feel and plenty of eerie synth work. It's not a very instant track but it builds to an extremely heavy crescendo, with some killer crushing riffs.
Warring Tribes, Eventual Demise
The concluding song of the Evolution Trilogy chronicles the rise of mankind and the disastrous effect this has on the rest of the Earth. It's faster and more aggressive but I could have done without so much synth. The track has a very narrative feel to it, as the chaos and confusion of man is communicated through the music. It includes cool tribal vocals, which would appeal to nu-metal fans.
Single Sided
I first heard this on a Relapse compilation and it turned me on to the band. All the elements of Alchemist combine on this one. There's tribal drumming, low key guitar/synth interplay, gradually increasing heaviness and finally an explosion into an all-out metallic riff-fest. Agius is absolutely incredible, going from Pete Steele-type goth vocals to harsh shouts and finally blasting away with that monstrous black metal shriek. This is just an indescribably powerful track.
Surreality
The fastest and most "thrashing" song on the disc, this still has plenty of quirky touches to separate it from the pack. That jumpy chorus riff is unforgettable.
New Beginning
"Heavy but jittery" is how I would describe the beginning of this one. It starts with a very nervous sound, jumping back and forth from an almost reggae feel to bruising metal. Then the song shifts gears radically in the last third, sporting some very spacey synth tones before an AWESOME doomy riff of cosmic proportions breaks through. It's the best riff on an album full of good ones and it blows me away every time I hear it.
Tide In, Mind Out
Another outstanding track, these guys have the "space rock" feel down pat. A strong drum beat propels a surging, upbeat guitar riff that builds and builds. The synths add an almost peaceful feel to the song, while Agius' vocals are aggressive yet not harsh - New Age Metal, anyone? There's a lyric here that seems to describe Alchemist itself: "Plentiful, awe inspiring, Endless energy, never tiring"
Eclectic
This is an instrumental work out that lives up to its name. I found the opening guitar hook fairly tedious, but the song finally veers off and explores a variety of feels and styles. It is an interesting song but a little overbearing in spots.
Escape From the Black Hole
I probably would have ended the album with the stronger "New Beginning" rather than this. It's certainly not a bad track, but the chorus is awkward and the jangly verse riff is not my favorite. But there's some really heavy crunching going on before that chorus. It's one that will have to grow on the listener.
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