One of the weird paradoxes of the internet age is the more people are exposed to new and diverse ideas/concepts, the more they tend to isolate themselves in a sort of “comfort zone,” whether that’s politically, socially, or even related to music. This plays out in bands being very easily lumped into one of seemingly a hundred subgenres and listeners wanting them to conform to those norms.

It seems contrary to both common sense, good taste, and the very purpose of art, but I’ll even admit to falling victim to the mindset. When I’m in the mood for metalcore, tech-death, synthwave, whatever, I want something that scratches that particular itch. Some of it makes sense at a basic level, right? If you want a burger, you aren’t going to order a salad. So what happens when a band doesn’t give a shit about my itches or whims?  

The answer is excellence, at least in the right hands. France’s Fractal Universe have had an interesting journey to their now-third, full-length release. Theirs is a progressive and technical form of extreme metal that is completely uninterested in boxes. That resulted in two previous records with truly stunning highs (“Oneiric Realisations” is among my favorite tech songs ever) and some clear kinks to work out in their musical destination.

Explaining their formula is—much like their sound—better to feel than explain, but here goes. Take more classic tech-death like Obscura and Psycroptic, add in melody and groove from bands like Textures and Tesseract, throw in bits prog from Haken and Leprous, and add the saxophone and jazz flourish from Rivers Of Nihil. That’s quite the flavorful bowl of chili if they could ever get the ingredients down, right?

Thankfully, The Impassable Horizon manages to find the perfect balance of sweetness (prog), spice (tech), and umami (groove), resulting in a record that at least equals, if not surpasses, a lot of their clear influences.

So much of what makes this third go-round tick is a keen sense of both balance and dark melody. You’ll initially be fooled into thinking the increased reliance on sung melodies would result in a brighter, happier record, but the depths explored on The Impassable Horizon are much gloomier and philosophical than on records past.

Don’t get me wrong, when guitarist/vocalist/saxomaphonist Vince Wilquin belts the maddeningly good earworm at the end of “Interfering Spherical Scenes,” it’s one of those moments you’ll have to rewind time and time again. It’s also about wormholes and all quite sci-fi, reminding me of the nerdy fun I always have with Allegaeon. The depth of exploration that goes into each song really is a marvel to behold.

The icing on top is the added prog and jazz emphasis. Sure, you’ll do your best Corpsegrinder impression during the album’s wealth of death metal riffs, but it’s the surprising left turns, the hip-shaking hooks, and the dazzling guitar solos that will win you over in the end. So, let my preconceived itches be damned—this really is a musical flavor combo that works wonders. It may very well be the prog album of the year, too.

Preorder the album at this location.

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