Hidden Gems: Artificial Language – The Observer (2017)

Genre: Progressive metal / progressive rock

Release date: 28th April, 2017

Record label: (Self-released)

For fans of: Wovenwar, Caligula’s Horse, Skyharbor

The ObserverThe debut album by technical up-and-comers Artificial Language, The Observer, is one of the most bizarrely direct progressive metal records ever made.

While it’s as technical and laden with intricacies as one would expect from an experimental rock album, its actual songwriting and compositions are surprisingly simple: The Observer consists of eleven tracks, the very clear majority of which refuse to break the four-minute mark. Outside of the epic, symphonic closer “Turn Off the Pictures”, this makes this album an inordinately punchy experience, but that is actually where the secret to The Observer’s innate brilliance lies.

This record makes use of every second it has, packing itself to the very brim with mathematically impressive perfection, to the point where listeners will need to donate a great deal of their time to it in order to understand it fully.

Not only does The Observer maintain a constant, ungodly fast pace throughout its entire runtime, at times basically being the sonic equivalent to a sugar high, but it is also quite possibly the best guitar album of 2017 so far. Duelling shredders Victor Corral and Charlie Robbins deserve Grammy Awards for their work here, as every single riff they lay out is addictive, either due to the head-banging anarchy that develops in their wake (such as during the first verse of “Playing the River” and the bridge of “Mazes”) or their sheer, unalienable precision, which permeates every track found on the record.

However, Artificial Language’s appeal is not just limited to the realm of the six strings. Vocalist Shay Lewis lays out nothing but gorgeous melodies, which fly over the technical musicianship in a blaze of melodic rock-inspired glory. Unlike a plethora of rock contemporaries, however, Lewis’s singing does not drive The Observer, meaning that the vocals take their place as just one of the many instruments at Artificial Language’s disposal.

The keyboards of Jonathon Simpson elevate the record, adding a calming ambience to moments like the openings of “The Silver Chord”, “Fortune Teller” and “Change”. These calm passages serve as charming and endearing interludes to the album, allowing the listener a moment to breathe in between the fast progressions of the main bodies of the songs. Adding to this dramatic effect are The Observer’s fleeting moments of symphonic rock inspiration, occurring during “Change” and especially the grandiose “Turn Off the Pictures”. As great as The Observer would still be without these details, it is the symphonic and piano-orchestrated moments that raise the record into a league of its own. Their appearance always makes the track in question feel “bigger” and more vibrant. If anything, Artificial Language should probably integrate slightly more symphonic elements into their music in the future.

However, as is, The Observer is still one of the best rock albums of 2017, without doubt. It is undeniably progressive and enjoys showing off Artificial Language’s technical skill, yet it is also driven and focused. Filled with “blink and you’ll miss it” moments of sheer brilliance, it is an album that deserves to be heard again and again.

The Observer is still available via Artificial Language’s Bandcamp page.

Listen to Alec Algar Burke and Matt Mills’s review of The Observer’s lead single, “These Aren’t Mirages”, in this week’s Metal vs. Pop Cast here.