Autarkh- Emergent (Album Review)

Nov. 10, 2023


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Autarkh’s debut Form in Motion established them as a unique and very different entity from Dodecahedron in 2021, fusing elements of electronic and industrial with death and black metal to create soundscapes that had more of a robotic and alien feel to them.  It often resulted in some stunning and abrasive moments that only revealed some of their finer details once you peeled back the layers of noise and grit, but I did find that the approach started to feel a bit too similar by the end.  As a result, Form in Motion was one of those albums that was clearly well constructed but was missing some of those truly standout moments that would keep listeners coming back.  I had a lot of hope for a follow-up, and this year’s Emergent not only refines the approach from its predecessor but heads off in drastically different directions.  There are still some harrowing and genuinely intense moments, but Autarkh spends just as much time exploring lighter textures and spacey melodies that give off a much brighter tone.  It’s still very dense and likely to take a few times through to get a feel for all the details, but the hooks are so much stronger that you’ll be compelled to dive in again and again.

Form in Motion had some brighter spots in between the maelstrom, but with Emergent there’s a clear emphasis on these softer textures right from the beginning.  Opener “Open Focus” begins with shimmering ambient sounds and churning electronics, expanding outwards in a slower and methodical fashion.  It’s the type of track that’s dense in its layering but also has sections that immediately pop out at you, with the melodies giving off more of a progressive rock or post metal sound while the rhythmic backbone has an industrial and robotic feel, as though you’re watching an assembly line in a futuristic factory while light from an outside planet shines in.  It’s noticeably more hopeful than its predecessor, but if you were missing some of the chaos tracks like “Duhkha” and “Ka” bring in some more of that weight and colder tonality.  “Strife” and “Refocus” have some huge hooks that remind me of a more prog leaning variant of both Fear Factory and Nine Inch Nails, while the frantic back and forth of “Eye of Horus” gives off more of a breakcore vibe.  Yet even when other bands come to mind, Autarkh continues to inject their own personality and retain a uniqueness.  The biggest difference between Emergent and Form in Motion besides the obvious changes in tone is the variety in the songwriting, as the chaotic faster parts aren’t as uniform this time around and almost all the tracks have their own identity.  This is what I had been hoping for previously and was so excited to hear, as that first listen was full of moments that impressed and immediately hooked me, compelling me to return and explore additional details.  Closer “Ka” does stretch on for maybe a bit too long, but that’s the only real downside on an otherwise incredible listen.

The vocals regularly shift between abrasive metal pitches and cleaner ones that match the brighter sheen Emergent is going for.  “Open Focus” has emotive singing that brings in a lot more of that progressive or post metal feel, but around the halfway point some harsher screams are injected into the mix.  “Strife” moves towards much bigger, booming pitches that stand tall above the layers, giving off more of a Fear Factory vibe, while “Refocus” has some of the most distorted and alien sounding growls the album has to offer.  It’s arguably just as much to take in as the instrumentation, as specific pitches stand out on each listen, and in while the performances do sometimes come off as a bit all over the place I can’t think of anything that sounded outright bad or too out of place.  Autarkh seems to have embraced everything industrial and extreme metal in their approach here, and that balance of light and dark enhances their sound even more.

Not content to merely refine and repeat themselves, Autarkh has kept a little bit of the cold and isolating maelstrom of their debut but opted to expand towards much brighter territory.  If Form in Motion was the result of industrial and metal colliding in as violent a fashion as possible, Emergent reveals the shimmering new possibilities as the remnants of the explosion take on a new shape.  Where Autarkh’s debut may have blurred together over repeat listens, this follow-up offers the type of track by track identify I had been hoping for from them and pushes things to an entirely new level.  Emergent is available from Season of Mist.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg