Artificial Brain – The Darker Side of A.I.Monday, 1st May 2017
There are more and more bands moving into the space game – taking a futuristic approach and using it as a launching board to create extreme metal that more ‘at one with the universe’ type of mentality. Then there’s Artificial Brain, who have endeavored to use the idea of the cosmos and artificial intelligence to create something darker – something more terrifying, yet still somber in other ways. It’s a more unique take than what others seem to be doing with this platform, and it is garnering them some much deserved attention.
The band recently released their second album, Infrared Horizon, and have pushed to up their game to the next level in every regard. More dynamic tempos, more eerie sound effects, and more out-of-this-world riffs. A gritty experience that pulls you in further with each listen. Being one of the strongest death metal releases of 2017 so far, we grabbed bassist Samuel Smith to chat about what makes the group tick, as well as their thoughts on metal’s own space race.
Dead Rhetoric: You came out with Labyrinth Constellation and it got your name out there pretty quickly. Did you have any internal/external pressure going into Infrared Horizon to make it one-up that album?
Samuel Smith: Yeah, I think it was the fact that Labyrinth was as well received as it was. It provided a little pressure, but mostly for us it was internal. We set reasonably high standards for ourselves, and that’s one of the reasons that the album took as long as it did. We didn’t want to rush into it just because we needed to keep buzz going, we wanted to make sure we had the strongest songs possible.
Dead Rhetoric: What did you do this time that was different from Labyrinth?
Smith: One of the things, conceptually, was making it a more unified concept. We didn’t think that we had really succeeded with, or considered with Labyrinth. With that album, the band name has to do with A.I. and the title was space-y, and the artwork was awesome, but it didn’t have anything to do with the lyrical content, because we just gave Paolo Girardi free reign. So we wanted something that was more unified this time. For the whole record, the lyrical concepts are based on existentialism of A.I., and we enlisted Adam Burke to do the art, and we wanted something that would represent where we were going [lyrically]. We also wanted to capture the more somber elements in the music, because we feel like that’s a big part of our sound.
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of the somber piece, that felt more pronounced with Infrared. Do you feel like that’s an area where you could make the band go off into more of your own direction?
Smith: I think so. I think it comes out fairly naturally, because Dan [Gargiulo] and I are really into black metal and we have been for a long time. That’s just more of our personality – we tend more towards depression than anger. It’s a more unusual aesthetic direction for a death metal band…I would argue with us being labeled a technical death metal band anyway, but for technical death metal, that’s not a typical choice, so yeah, I think it sets us apart a little bit.
Dead Rhetoric: As you were mentioning, it’s not really technical death metal – that seems more like a misnomer. There’s dissonance, black metal…do you feel there’s something for everyone in terms of the extreme nature of the band?
Smith: I would hope so. We all come from pretty different [influences]. Like I said, Dan and I are pretty interested in black metal. I’m also interested in a lot of experimental music, and Keith [Abrami], our drummer, is into a lot of funk and groovier death metal – Dim Mak was a big influence when we started this band. Will [Smith], our singer, loves slam and really brutal death metal as well as hip hop. He also does hip hop. I think that constellation of personal influences provides something for everyone. It’s groovier than maybe we would originally anticipate based on the riffs, and then Will brings something entirely different.
Dead Rhetoric: So what does Colin Marston bring to the table? I know you’ve used him for both albums now.
Smith: For one thing, when we came into recording Labyrinth, we wanted to do something a little more natural sounding. Colin pushed us even further in that direction. He really emphasized his belief that a more natural performance, a performance that sounds like the performers involved in making the music, was important. So on either record, we didn’t do much editing at all. Even when we would have a take on a song that the player really didn’t like. Colin would try to reassure us that it was cool – that the imperfections add an energy to the music that you might otherwise miss. Overedited recordings could be really sterile sounding.
He also had all these great production ideas on both records. On Labyrinth, that lead on the end of “Absorbing Black Ignition” that everyone thinks is an organ…that was a Colin idea. Dan wrote a melody in the studio for that, then Colin suggested that we use this octave generator pedal called a POG. It’s an like an Electro Harmonix pedal. We used that as well as some delay to create that organ sound. So he has all these cool, little textural ideas that are really helpful.
Dead Rhetoric: In going with the sound effects, to make a specific example, the title track [“Infrared Horizon”] has some more space-y electronic vibes to it. Are you trying to pull more of that in to bring the listener into that outer space feeling from the music?
Smith: Yeah! I think we did a bit of that on Labyrinth and we wanted to ramp that up a bit because I think that’s fun for us and it creates an interesting break. It’s a way to refresh your ears…this gnarly, textural stuff. It fits with the sci-fi vibe and it’s just fun! Creating that stuff was a blast. Specifically, the “Infrared” part you are talking about at the end of the song – I have this dual oscillator box called a Grendel Drone Commander and we brought it into the studio and we hooked it up to a bunch of pedals that Colin had lying around. Someone would sit with the oscillator and someone would sit with the pedals and we would just improvise. We did that with different combinations of people for like a full hour. Then we took all these crazy little 1-second things that we got from that one long session and we put it all over the album. A lot of it is in that “Infrared” ending.
Dead Rhetoric: So did you work on that at any other time, or was that 1-hour what you used to divvy up?
Smith: That 1-hour session provided the electronic interludes for all but one of the tracks. There’s an electronic piece that I had prepared at home, just using Logic and sampling old jazz records and really screwing with them with filters and things like that, which ended up on “Vacant Explorer.”
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of guest appearances – you had Trevor from The Black Dahlia Murder come in on the title track as well. How did that come about?
Smith: Dan has had a relationship with Trevor because Revocation has toured with Black Dahlia a couple of times. I guess on one tour, Trevor asked Dan what else he did musically, so Dan mentioned Artificial Brain, and at that point, Labyrinth was just out/about to come out and Trevor had already known about us. He just didn’t know Dan was in the band. It turned out that he was a big fan, so he asked us to come out on tour with them at the end of 2015 on the IndieMerch Tour. So we did that with Goatwhore, Iron Reagan and Entheos. We all became friends and it was a huge opportunity for us, so when we were recording the record we asked him to be on it, and he said of course.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of Dan, does it make it challenging for Artificial Brain to get out and tour because he’s so busy with Revocation?
Smith: It’s been pretty okay. We have another guitar player, Oleg Zalman, and he is basically like a touring member, but he also has helped with the writing. He’s in the band, but we would never play with three guitar players because the songs are written for two. It would screw up the balance – we would have to write another part…there’s no good way to do it. So if Dan’s not around, or if Jon [Locastro] is not around, Oleg will fill in for them. So we have a rotation and that makes it much easier. For writing, we only do it when Dan’s home because he’s the primary songwriter.
Dead Rhetoric: Artificial Brain was name-dropped and they played some music in the show Elementary [and Limitless]. Was there someone in CBS that found out about you guys and tried to push you into the shows – how did that work?
Smith: On both of those shows, there has been a lot of metal played because the head writer of Limitless – Craig Sweeny, he’s a huge metalhead and he has played us on a couple of his shows. We are so grateful for it. We got a message once from a guy names James Murphy on the Facebook page saying that he had saw us on Limitless so he checked the album out and thought it was awesome. I responded and said thanks a lot and just clicked on his profile for curiosity, and it turned out that it was THE James Murphy [laughs], who was in Testament and Death. The first death metal album I bought was Spiritual Healing, which he plays guitar on, so I kind of freaked out. So we have gotten a lot of new fans out of that, which was really amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: The cover art for Infrared Horizon is awesome – I can’t come up with a more technical way of saying it. You said it ties further into lyrical concepts this time around?
Smith: Yeah – a lot of the lyrics, as I said, are about the existentialism of artificial intelligence and A.I. considering its mortality or place in the world. Or where it fits in with evolution. So it’s kind of a somber idea. Those were basically the notes that we gave Adam when he commissioned the piece. He did it, amazingly, in a day or two days. He is unbelievably talented. All the other work he has done recently has been great too – I don’t know if you’ve seen the new Loss album cover but it’s really amazing. He also did the new Vektor.
Dead Rhetoric: I had to laugh at one point, as I was reading comments about the cover and someone mentioned that it reminded them of Wall-E.
Smith: Right – this was sort of a band discussion after we got the art. Not a serious one – we weren’t concerned or anything, but there was confusion about whether the robot had legs and was kneeling or whether it was treads. We realized that they are legs, but they look kind of like treads, so I think that’s why people think it looks like Wall-E. But Wall-E was cool – I liked Wall-E. I’m fine with that.
Dead Rhetoric: Obviously Artificial Brain is huge into the sci-fi and space aspect. What do you think has brought death metal from the violence and gore aspect into more bands visiting space themes?
Smith: I think it’s always been something that has been around, like if you back to bands like Nocturnus. There are a lot of cultural influences and a sense that we are living in the future, and I think that may be subliminally creating an interest in this sort of material. Also, there’s only so much that you can do with the death and gore stuff. At some point it ceases to be shocking. If it doesn’t have that sort of impact, then what’s the point? One of the most exciting points about getting into metal is finding all this music that is terrifying and disgusting and you feel like you are doing something wrong – and you are frightened by it. Listening to Slayer for the first time, I remember having that feeling, like it’s scary music and maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. So after you reach the logical conclusion of that – you get the craziest goregrind imaginable, then where do you go from there? I think its people finding new subject material that seems fantastical, but still interesting.
Dead Rhetoric: Artificial Brain has a more unique approach to it – much of the space-y material has more of a sterile feel. You have a gritty edge that many bands are lacking, with similar subject matter…
Smith: I hope so, thanks! I think part of that is Colin’s production aesthetic, but also, we are just interested in grittier music. We listen to a lot of music that’s not hyper-produced so that’s also part of it. Also, something we tried to do with Infrared was push our musicianship a bit by making the songs considerably faster than they were on Labyrinth. Kind of teetering on the edge of stuff we can’t play creates a certain grittiness.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got two albums under your belt at this point, what are some goals you’d like to see the band achieve in the next few years?
Smith: When we started the band, our only big goals were to play Maryland Deathfest, and to play with Gorguts. We did the first one a few years ago, and we are doing the second one on Saturday (April 15) – we are playing with in Montreal. I’m incredibly excited about that. Aside from that, we’d like to tour Europe. We’ve done a few US tours and we are probably going to do some more US touring, but Europe would be amazing. Europe, Asia, Australia…anywhere like that. I think that’s our biggest goal right now.
Dead Rhetoric: So once the album comes out, what’s next for you guys after that?
Smith: We have a bunch of shows lined up, we are playing with our friends in Pyrrhon, River Black, and a couple other bands. We are probably going to be touring the US in the fall, but I can’t say much else about that yet, besides that it will be a US tour with maybe a few Canadian dates. I don’t have too many details anyways. And we’ll start writing for the next record. We said we’d give ourselves about a six month break after recording and we finished back in the fall. So maybe in the summer we’ll start writing for the next record.