Autarkh – Emergent Review

Rebirth, at least in popular media, is often depicted as this transcendent experience, the result of great devotion, personal discovery, and divine intervention. Rarely is the transformation from your old self to a new form shown to be an arduous process, a horrifically painful transition comprised of broken bones, torn sinew, and severed spirit. Dutch “contemporary extreme metal” outfit Autarkh bridge the gap between the two with their challenging take on electronics-heavy, blackened, industrial post-metal. The last time I journeyed with Autarkh on their trek through spiritual and corporeal transmogrification, I left feeling cold and underwhelmed. Two years and change passed, and now I sit with follow-up Emergent, hoping that it awakens my soul in ways its predecessor couldn’t.

At once ethereal and grotesque, their sophomore record Emergent represents a chaotic, terrifying journey through rebirth of the self. Arguably less aggressive and thunderous than Form in Motion, Emergent pulls greater influence from not only founder Michel Nienhuis’ past with Dodecahedron, but also from the forward-thinking, emotionally charged industrial stylings of acts like Author and Punisher. Trent Reznor’s footprint is still felt here, as his Nine Inch Nails heritage still anchors much of Autarkh’s material. Nevertheless, Emergent clearly marks a turning point in this group’s story wherein they quickly realize their own vision, voice, and identity. If nothing else, Emergent is a record of self-discovery and of self-actualization grounded by a highly structured, yet tumultuous, industrial electronic core with a blackened edge.

Emergent by AUTARKH

Unfortunately, Emergent fails to resonate with me, just as Form in Motion failed two years ago—albeit for different reasons. Before, I criticized Autarkh’s inability to move the needle forward in their endeavor to create something novel and substantial. I can’t make the same criticism today, which is a great sign of things to come. However, now that the core of Autarkh’s mission holds water, I started noticing, for the first time, that many of the band’s aesthetic choices—particularly as it regards the vocals and drum programming—grate my senses. When guitarist/vocalist David Lutein reaches for high notes (something that he does far more often here than on Form in Motion), I cringe, instantly detaching me from the story (“Open Focus”). A similar effect caused by the drum programming punishes—especially during the record’s few blast beat runs—instead of rewards-focused, repeated listens (“Strife”). These issues, compounded with the fact that half of these tracks overstay their welcome without offering much in the way of songwriting dynamics (“Open Focus,” “Refocus,” “Countless Kaleidoscopes”), challenge my desire to return and detract from overall memorability.

On the positive side, Emergent is conceptually much more interesting than Form in Motion. Unlike many concept albums, which rely largely on lyrical content and smooth storytelling arcs to create their narratives, Emergent uses clever details in instrumentation and sharp twists and turns in storytelling to make its mark. Attentive listeners may notice thematic callbacks in “Refocus” that harken to opener “Open Focus.”1 They may also cause eerie flashbacks to Dodecahedron’s oppressive endeavors in “Duhkha” and closer “Ka,” both songs which substantiate the importance of Autarkh’s history on their evolutionary path forward. Listeners may further note that Emergent’s strongest material expands its story in scale and scope such that, occasionally, some of those aforementioned aesthetic drawbacks fall away, and even become strengths (“Trek,” “Eye of Horus”). Additionally, the album’s structure feels incredibly musical in nature, evoking an emotional tenderness and brave vulnerability that belies its sharp, unforgiving shell (“Trek,” “Ka”).

Taking all of these elements into account, Emergent becomes a very difficult album to rate in the House ov Ken. At one side, I must admit that there is a lot more to Autarkh’s identity than I gave them credit for in the past. I also must concede that many of this album’s coolest moments allow what I consider to be the album’s most damning faults to fall away, if only for a moment. On the other side, I still find it a difficult album to get through and I don’t find the majority of it to be enjoyable or enticing. In the end, I’ve warmed up to Emergent, but I still find my experience with it disappointing. Alas, I can’t yet get on board Autarkh’s vision of rebirth in their current form.

Rating: Disappointing.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist Underground Activists
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 10th, 2023

Dolphin Whisperer

Autarkh never could have been a simple project, neither for those who knew of the Dodecahedron pedigree nor for those who understand its wild degree of exploration and self-indulgence. Vocalist, guitarist, and primary spokesperson Michel Nienhuis has reinforced on multiple occasions that Autarkh exists for exactly one audience: Autarkh. So much so that there’s a stripped-down version, Autarkh III, that amplifies the ambience, ethereal, and esoteric nature of the concepts at play, albeit in a hellish jazz fusion landscape resembling Nienhuis’ time in Exivious filtered through an entheogenic lens. Finding the proper perspective on this eclectic outfit doesn’t come easy.2

Form in Motion presented a pulsing, glitchy framework that remains a functional, friction-fueled base for Autarkh’s deep inward gaze. Piled like a post-apocalyptic graveyard of fried, hissing machines and wandering souls who’ve never seen the light, that debut record challenged the listener with an atypical rhythm section in metal (all digital beats) in a caustic, curious environment. Despite the interludes that gave uncomfortable breathing room, it still managed to be good, compelling industrial music with a progressive, blackened edge. Now through Emergent, Nienhuis continues the chronicle of reflective cycles that Dodecahedron’s iconic work kwintessens started—well if you want to call that devastating form of existential nihilism reflective, anyway. But if you’ve lived through that constructed hell then each iteration afterward would hopefully arise brighter.

Emergent exhibits this quest for deeper knowledge with a re-envisioning of Autarkh’s own palette, the cover itself boasting a new, fracturing Matrix green. Organic voice layers, jazz-toned alien guitar motifs, synth choices that border exuberant amongst the shattered, pulsing background—each adds color to the grayscale, industrial identity. As intended these musical shifts move in tandem with the narrative this cycle offers: a meditative exploration of the spirit. The humanistic growth collides with the increased humanity of hopeful melodies that intensify from their first appearance in “Open Focus” to a powerful gathering in “Aperture” to a concluding call to “Run to the Light” in “Ka.” And in further blossoming, guitar partner David Lutein3 steps into a greater role as a voice, providing the lush accompaniment to the pained and discordant post-hardcore barks, a calling croon against the fight of the most abrasive experiences (“Strife,” “Duhkha,”4 “Countless Kaleidoscopes”). And before Nienhuis breaks growl to join in chanting “Run into the liiight” (“Ka”), “Eye of Horus” warps his wail with a cyberpunk filter to signal the change. Every detail across Emergent services the cyclical sermon.

Meticulous attention plagues both the rewards and struggles of the musical cosmos that Nienhuis aims to build with each of his successive outings. Letting Form in Motion bleed directly into the introductory electronic crinkle of “Open Focus,” reveals the unbreakable connection between the two, the serene synth moods similarly giving way to a climb through trials of Nine Inch Nails influenced cinematic angst (“Strife,” “Duhkha”) to enlightened achievement (“Ka”). Kwintessens-informed participants will immediately latch onto borrowed configurations that form the dramatic riff of “Open Focus,” “Refocus,” and “Ka,” reconstructing the tension release to pure destruction as an explosion of blaring whirs and bouncing kicks. Emergent is self-referential enough—heavy-handed truthfully—to rope in new ears, and familiar to a slight fault to those who’ve read enthusiastically the source material. It’s never too much, but it’s a lot.

Smart, adventurous, and unquestionably brave, Autarkh continues the streak of producing material that defies any expectations of a presumed next chapter while fitting its new mutant member into another nook of the extended Nienhuis universe. In many ways, this experimental Dutch act reflects the kind of bold attitude I treasured in the early career of The Ocean. Much like a novel, Emergent contains an element of enhanced enjoyment from repetition, whether it’s tackling one track at a time or seeking the line that draws a path through the whole. Even the sounds that frustrate or don’t gel with my own personal enjoyments end up making sense and supporting what Autarkh hopes to achieve. Not every moment of Emergent sweeps me away in its progressive, industrial, and maximalist assembly, but I’m confident that time will reveal even more of what lurks in this labyrinthian practice. And if it doesn’t? Well, I’ll just wait patiently for the next installment.

Rating: Very Good.

The post Autarkh – Emergent Review appeared first on Angry Metal Guy.

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