The New York City based death metal band, Artificial Brain, are gearing up to release their sophomore album, Infrared Horizon. Infrared Horizon is the followup to their 2014 debut album, Labyrinth Constellation. Labyrinth Constellation presented a band that specialized in a kind of Gorguts-ian tech death that set it’s sights toward the outer reaches of the solar system. Of course, Artificial Brain is not concerned with Buzz Aldrin exploring a new and exciting “final frontier”. No, Artificial Brain is far more interested in what kind of horrors wait for us behind the worm holes.
Infrared Horizon takes on a much more immediate paranoia. Artificial intelligence is advancing at an ever steadying rate. Sure, there will probably be benefits in the short term. But, anyone who has any familiarity with the Terminator series knows we should be careful. We already have robots that can communicate with each other and work together. Granted, these robots are 8 inches tall and mostly just play soccer. But, those robots are only going to become more advanced. What happens next? Artificial Brain have thought about this. They’ve probably thought about this far more than their peers or the average person that does not hold a masters degree in mechanical engineering. With Infrared Horizon, the band has constructed a concept album that concerns itself with a future in which all of humanity is replaced with robots and cyborgs who believe themselves to be the next step in human evolution. The band takes on an age old question asked by the likes of Phillip K. Dick and Outkast: “Where does technology meet life and can it coexist?” It’s a dark and heavy record probing for answers, but I sense they wouldn’t mind if you compared it to Wall-E.
I spoke with members: Will Smith, Samuel Smith, and Keith Abrami. We discussed Infrared Horizon and… well, we mostly covered artificial intelligence.
What kind of creative outlet did Infrared Horizon provide that Labyrinth Constellation did not?
Keith: I think the main difference for Infrared Horizon was our position in the metal world at that point in our existence as a band. When we wrote and recorded Labyrinth Constellation we were unsigned and almost completely unknown. Since it was going to basically be our introduction, there was a different kind of pressure behind it. We wanted to make a good first impression, not only for possible new fans, but for possible labels, and other bands who were already established. It was definitely a more serious process for [Labyrinth Constellation]. That being said, after all the touring we had done, fans and bands we’ve met and general experience gained as a band since LC, we were able to work on [Infrared Horizon] with a sense of confidence that wasn’t presented in our previous recordings. The songs on IH are a good representation, in my opinion, of the direction we’d like to continue in.
Will: Infrared was more focused from the start on being a singular body of work. Not to say we didn’t take Labyrinth as seriously, but some of the songs from the first album were written very early in our existence and don’t necessarily flow with each other as naturally – in my opinion. I think on this album we have found our groove and are a lot more comfortable in what we do.
What inspired the story for Infrared Horizon?
W: “I.Asimov” – one of the many autobiographies that Isaac Asimov wrote, and specific episodes of Futurama dealing with A.I. which were curated by Paulo Paguntalan, close friend of the band. Not to say that Infrared is comprised only of those two resources, but they were key elements in the drafting of the lyrics and concepts. Asimov’s novels were, of course, a big influence, but his and ideas recorded in his own words was something that I found particularly inspiring for this album. Also, at the risk of sounding too obvious, the Terminator series is owed a bit of credit as well, if only for illuminating a very real paranoia about technology in our collective subconscious.
From a musical perspective, how did you all approach fleshing he songs out to fit the narrative?
W: When I was presented with instrumentals to put vocals and lyrics to, we usually had loose discussions about what themes I wanted to convey and which songs they would be appropriate for. I imagine this process was easier for me because I simply had to fit words over the songs as they became completed. If they sound cohesive as part of a greater body of work, I have to credit my bandmates for that.
The music of Artificial Brain tends to be described as twisted, knotty, and harsh. All of which are the usual signifiers for tech death and progressive death. Yet, underneath all of that there’s a strong sense of melody as well as things like texture and concrete song structures. How do all of those elements come together?
K: We always find it funny to hear people refer to us as tech death, because real tech bands would probably totally disagree, and I think progressive actually just means you give a shit. You are TRYING. You are using feedback and experience to improve your approach to any craft or activity, whether it be an instrument, a sport, or even a job. Most active bands are progressive because they grow and improve as they continue. That being said, Artificial Brain is a collaboration or all our influences and backgrounds, as well as each member’s approach to playing their instrument.
When you have a group of guys that love Suffocation, Abigor and Gorguts, but have influences like Nirvana, Barry White, Van Halen, Biggie Smalls, and The Temptations, you’re going to get a weird perspective on death metal. Dan has been writing for his entire life and has the most experience in that sense, so he tends to contribute the flesh. We play what feels right and we give each other feedback and make sure it’s something we’d like to listen to, and out comes Artificial Brain. Sometimes it comes off tech, sometimes progressive, sometimes black metal and sometimes death metal, but we’re just trying to work hard and enjoy playing music. I know for me as a drummer, I find satisfaction in nailing a part that I couldn’t physically play when we first wrote the song, and so maybe in theory we do have tech and prog elements because our song writing process IS definitely a process, and elicits growth individually. I’m not even sure my kit would set up if I wasn’t in Artificial Brain, and that’s something that makes me grateful to be involved.
I also think the other bands we meet and the bands we play in other than Artificial Brain are HUGE influences for how Artificial Brain sounds. Between you and I, it’s not uncommon to hear something like “four measures of blasts into two measures KEN Mode slam” when we’re working on a new song. And there’s no better lesson than watching another band you respect kicking ass on stage. It’s like every time we play a show, we’re touching another monolith. It’s an amazing thing to be fortunate enough to be involved in.
Over the last few years, there seems to have been an influx of space themed death metal being released. Why do you think the theme lends itself so well to the genre? What do you think the interest in science fiction as well as practical astronomy and astro physics says about the culture?
K: I always talk about this with people that don’t quite know what death metal is, because when I tell people I’ve met through my job or maybe through friends that I play in a death metal band, their go-to response is “Oh like kill your mother and father growling music…?” And I always just say, yes. Like that. But Artificial Brain is nothing like that, and I think the bands that looked towards space most likely found a more terrifying feeling from the unknown. Just like a horror movie that never shows the monster, space death metal allows the listener to rely on imagination. Also, for me, the infinite abyss of space tends to remind me that humans really are nothing, and our lives end in what seems to be an unfathomable fraction of time in relation to the existence of the universe.
It’s unknown, dark, freezing, empty and totally fucking awesome. All perfect adjectives for death metal. I’ve noticed too that a bunch of that come to our shows don’t mosh, they don’t get sloppy drunk, they’re usually well spoken and are into video games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Fallout. Maybe that kind of reveals a correlation between more introverted, intellectually, imagination driven individuals, and the type of metal that isn’t so straight forward. Not everyone has the patience to analyze weird, dissonant death/black metal. Sometimes it’s just too much to take in for the untrained ear, so people seem to shy away from it. It takes time and experience to speak the language.
W: In my opinion, metal has always probed deeper and asked more profound questions about our existence than any other genres of music are noted for. Not to say there is not depth in other music – but themes such as the metaphysical, the grotesque, and the unimaginable beyond seem to lend themselves well to metal. As much as many bands I adore and respect use the time honored gore and demons in their lyrics and art, I think it’s only natural that many bands are looking beyond the traditional viscera of the genre and setting their sights on the questions posed by science and science fiction.
Elon Musk, the owner and founder of Space X and Tesla, has gone on record calling artificial intelligence “our greatest existential threat”. Other space and tech geniuses like Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have also warned against the dangers of singularity. Do you think bringing about our own demise is part of human nature?
Sam: I think we’re like any organism, trying to survive and multiply so that we can pass on our genetic information. We’ve been eliminating all of the roadblocks to massive population growth with improvements in health care, with procedures like IVF, with genetically modified foods that can grow in inhospitable climates or during off-seasons, etc. We’re getting close to a point, however, where the planet won’t be able to keep up with this kind of growth (or our waste/emissions/etc.). We’re going to overburden Earth in short order, and we can’t really do anything about it, short of killing or sterilizing a tremendous amount of people (solutions that are obviously immoral, and so, rightfully, not discussed).
Family planning programs seem to be somewhat effective, but these programs are also constrained by low literacy rates, and things like gender wage inequality. What we’re left with is a situation like out-of-control bacteria find themselves in: survival and reproduction are our basic drives, but we’ve become so good at these things that we’re killing our host. We can’t help it, either. A dead host will, of course, mean that we die, too. Unless we can figure out some sort of transmission mechanism – like a cough into space. Since we’ve mostly removed ourselves from the process of natural selection, because of medical technology and also through the global cultural support of nonogamy, the creation of profound artificial intelligence and the integration of humans with machines can be though of as just an oblique expression of human evoultion – our creation of something modeled after humanity, but more perfect.
So, maybe we’ll see lovely, super-humanoid, empathetic, Ray Kurzweil AI that just wants to fix our problems for us, sure; or maybe an artificial consciousness would coldly engineer a great culling of human life, recognizing that to be the most rational solution to all of the environmental crises cause by overpopulation. Perhaps, being self-sufficient and basically unaffected by the disappearance of humanity, and being able to survive in environments that we would find inhospitable, sophisticated AI would not interfere with our gradual extinction, seeing no inherent value in human life. What I’m trying to get at is that, if we’re all nuked by Skynet, we will have been made obsolete by a more sophisticated form of life – one that we introduced into the world, and one that possesses a consciousness that must have been modeled after our own. It’s demise and evolution both, and a survival of key features of humanity beyond the point at which human life is no longer sustainable.
On a lighter note, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. That doesn’t mean you have to stop celebrating with your sweetie. What do our readers need to know for a classic New York City date night?
S: Many of you will be tempted to take your sweetheart out for a nice Italian meal, perhaps in our Little Italy neighborhood, or, if you’ve got money to burn, at a more upscale spot like Marea in the west 50’s… and while we endorse this idea completely, we want to warn you travelers against taking any of your scraps or bones home! If you leave them with the waiter after you’re finished, he or she will assuredly drop the leftovers in the closest alleyway, thereby avoiding any sort of unpleasant encounter with Pépé, the famed Neapolitan street goblin. If you listen closely, you might even hear a hoarse, but courteous “grazie” coming through the back door!
If you find that your eyes are bigger than your stomach, and you decide that you have too much food NOT to get a doggy bag, keep low to the ground upon your exit from the restaurant and remember to cover your eyes from the goblin’s razor sharp talons. You might be tempted to bring you hands to the sides of your head, so as to protect your ears from his agonizing shrieks, but DO NOT DO THIS. It’s important to keep in mind that your eyes are almost certainly where he’ll be aiming those claws, and your shifting hands would provide a perfect gouging opportunity for this delightful New York original.
Artificial Brain has been mentioned on a surprising amount of CBS shows, so I’m sure you all have special insight in television. What classic situational comedy do you feel the band has the most in common with?
S: The obvious responses here are shows like “Lost In Space”, “Mork and Mindy”, or “Third Rock From the Sun”, but actually I think it’s “According to Jim”, the now defunct Jim Belushi vehicle on ABC. Beyond identifying with his everyman wit and oafish antics, we and Jim Belushi’s character share a powerful appreciation for mild blues music, with its shuffling rhythms and deep-seated inoffensiveness. There’s nothing like relaxing to the soothing sounds of a basically-satisfied person playing ripping guitar solos over music written by dead people who had horrible lives.
W: The show “Small Wonder from the 80s actually deals with a few of the A.I. issues we present on our album. Should’ve included that in the influences. A.L.F. as well, obviously.
What do you think Bill Murray whispered into Scarlett Johansson’s ear at the end of Lost In Translation?
S: “Hey. Listen. No matter what happens, I want you to know that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, ok?”
W: “Just wait, they’re going to ruin Ghostbusters.”
What kind of space horrors should we be weary of lurking on Trappist-1?
K: The Trappist-1 parent star apparently is so dim, since it’s an ultra cool dwarf (sound like an MTV reality show) that most of its light is radiated in infrared wavelengths, rather than visible ones… So it’s horizon (get it?) would apparently always resemble sunset on Earth. Which leads me to believe that these creatures would look something like a Jimmy Buffett centaur with a shrimp lower half, rather than a horse. Fucked up, right?
W: Let me put it like this: “Have you ever gone fishing?”
Infrared Horizon is out on 4/21. Pre-order it from Profound Lore Records