Autocatalytica – Powerclashing Maximalism
Release Date: 16/10/20
Running Time: 37:30
Review by Steven Hooke
Progressive music in 2020 is a funny old thing. New music typically falls into one of two camps; the wild and frenetic mathcore side which consists of seeing how many notes you can play in a two and a half minute period before your fingertips catch fire, and the classically trained/musical theory side where you show off how many musical scales you know and most conversations people have end with “what do you mean you don’t know who Alex Lifeson is?” Inevitably, you’re going to get artists who try to emulate both, as is the case with New York-via-Boston four-piece Autocatalytica.
Having begun life as a musical outlet for guitarist and frontman Eric Thorfinnson, Autocatalytica soon formed into a more traditional band structure, albeit with an ever-changing cast of characters with up to 15 musicians contributing to the band over the years. The rather chaotic nature of the band’s origins (combined with the apparent and alarming thought processes of Thorfinnson) is reflected onto its sound, a heavily jazz-inspired progressive racket that stretches into the extreme levels of a Meshuggah or Between the Buried and Me and reaches all the way to the other end of the spectrum, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Steven Wilson or Cloudkicker.
As a result, it becomes such a bastard of a time trying to gauge the overall quality of an album like this because of the polar opposites trying to work together. “Powerclashing Maximalism” opens with ‘Borndun’, a crushing opening track that sounds like Meshuggah fronted by Avatar’s Johannes Eckerström playing the hits of Protest the Hero. And much of the first half of the album remains of this ilk, it is consistent in its inconsistency, utilising an avant-garde approach to song structure that keeps you on edge for what madness they conjure up next.
When you hit track four ‘Cheggo’ though, that’s when the avant-garde side of Autocatalytica really kicks in. An instrumental barrage of classic prog rock, guitar effects, some brass instruments, and maybe even a cheeky bit of organ in there for good measure. It is impressive for sure, but it edges too far into the world of “I’m a Grade 8 in guitar”, especially coming so soon after the extreme metal influences seen earlier in the album.
‘Dukka Dukka’ does better at finding that middle ground that “Powerclashing Maximalism” seems to be searching for, drawing comparisons to BTBAM’s “Automata I & II” albums from 2018, where the two sides of prog are used to build towards each other instead of fighting for attention. But then the final third of the album breaks down once again, losing a lot of the momentum re-established by ‘Dukka Dukka’. ‘Bananas Have Potassium’ (great title by the way) is equal parts classical music used for an end credits sequence of a game, street busker and cat walking on a piano; ‘Crawboi’ is a half-decent attempt at recreating “Ki”-era Devin Townsend Project (complete with their own Ché Aimee Dorval-equivalent); and ‘Graveo’ is the kind of idyllic music that’s usually played over a babbling brook or something.
“Powerclashing Maximalism” feels like what would happen if you tried to compress Opeth’s entire back catalogue into one album. For some, it’s a wet dream. For others, it’s an acute bout of vertigo. Multiple times during this write-up alone, the grade for this album has changed from a 6 to a 7 even to a 5 just because of how much is going on. Dedicated prog folk and those with more affiliation for jazz will view this album much differently, but for the filthy casuals, the pacing is a little jarring, good ideas and healthy inspirations are there but mismanaged, and there’s a distinct lack of killer hooks to really latch on to. Good songs like ‘Borndun’, ‘Trash Serum’ and ‘Dukka Dukka’ are worth sticking around for though.
03. Trash Serum
05. Dukka Dukka
06. Bananas Have Potassium
Eric Thorfinnson – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Erik Sorensen – Guitars
William Purcell – Bass
Emmett Ceglia – Drums
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