Review: Allegaeon – Proponent for Sentience
Written by Ides Bergen
Technical death metal is a genre that over the last dozen or so years has seen the apex of metal musicianship rise exponentially. So much so that much of the music produced in the genre these days (while astounding and awe-inspiring) can come off as a bit cold and remote.
But that is definitely not the case with Allegaeon. This Fort Collins, Colorado quintet measures its success by a much wider criteria. With each of its four full-length releases the members have not only grown as musicians but also as composers, arrangers, and storytellers.
The band’s most recent album Proponent for Sentience hit the streets on September 23rd 2016 via Metal Blade Records. It is the first release to feature new vocalist Riley McShane (ex-Son of Aurelius), who brings an increased vocal range to the band without drastically altering the sound of Allegaeon. According to guitarist and principal songwriter Greg Burgess there was never any doubt that McShane was the man to fill the shoes of original vocalist Ezra Haynes, who stepped down in 2015.
“In 2014 around the same time we put out Elements Of The Infinite, his band Son Of Aurelius put out their album Under A Western Sun and I was blown away. They had transcended straight tech death, and added more of a progressive element that was everything I ever wanted to accomplish within Allegaeon. Riley at that point became my favorite modern metal vocalist, so when you’ve got your favorite guy wanting the gig it’s an easy choice.”
And an excellent choice it was, because the addition of the new singer is just one of many elements of Proponent for Sentience that help it achieve the Herculean task of topping Allegaeon’s 2014 masterpiece Elements of the Infinite. Burgess and fellow axe-slinger Michael Stancel weave technically impressive (but more importantly), melodically memorable guitar lines throughout. The album’s first single ‘Grey Matter Mechanics – Appasonata Ex Machina’ for example flows seamlessly between a flamenco intro to mind melting sweep-picked shredding through melodic, almost power-metal like soloing and finally back to an insane flamenco outro. Bonus points for a song that melodically integrates the words cerebral frontal cortex and hippocampus!
Which leads us to another element that sets Allegaeon apart from many of their contemporaries. These guys are intelligent! Having already broached subjects on past records such as Dyson Spheres, the Golden Ratio, evolution, the God Particle, and the probability of spontaneous life generation on “Goldilocks” worlds, we wouldn’t expect Allegaon to deliver anything short of another thought-provoking dialogue. And that is exactly what they have done on Proponent for Sentience, which is a loosely themed concept album about the alarming rate of advancement in robotics and artificial intelligence.
The theme is bookended and divided by the three movements of the title track, titled respectively “Proponent for Sentience 1- The Conception,” “Proponent for Sentience 2- The Algorithm” and Proponent for Sentience 3- The Extermination.” In between them, the album explores both the dawn of machine consciousness and the fatal flaws of humanity.
The rhythm section of bassist Corey Archuleta and drummer Brandon Park help to drive the urgency and tension of tracks like ‘Demons of an Intricate Design’ and ‘Terrathaw and the Quake’ with a frightening heavy precision towards the album’s culmination in ‘Proponent for Sentience 3- The Extermination.’ This track starts out with a sample of none other than Dr. Stephen Hawking warning against the perils of rampant A.I. as well as Soilwork singer Bjorn “Speed” Strid lending some soaring power metal vocals and ex- Bloodshot Dawn guitarist Benjamin Ellis shredding a seamlessly placed guest solo.
Proponent for Sentience is truly a watershed moment for not only Allegaeon but for tech death as a whole. The record succeeds on every level at achieving dizzying new technical heights and somehow doing so around some of the most melodic and memorable songs to ever grace the genre.
Having said that, we must address the album closing “bonus track,” which is a cover of Canadian progressive rock titans Rush’s 1982 anthem ‘Subdivisions.’ I’m going to be honest with you, Rush is my all time favorite band and ‘Subdivisions’ may just be my favorite song of all time. So when I saw that that Allegaeon had deigned to touch that which is sacrosanct to me, my brain immediately starting screaming “Heresy!” “Charlatans!” and “Sacrilege!” However, once I calmed down and finally (reluctantly) listened, I was floored! Now, for most bands, daring to “interpret” a Rush song could be career suicide. But Allegaeon is clearly not like most bands. Their somewhat faithful but decidedly heavier delivery of the classic song not only works but ultimately proves a triumph.
I’m not sure that I would have made the parallel had they not executed such a bold coup, but now I can’t help but wonder if, just maybe, Allegaeon ARE this generations answer to Rush! And even the perfect score that I’m giving Proponent for Sentience can’t trump that as a compliment! 10/10