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Album review: Digital filters rob Terraform of soul

Terraform / “Dream | Construct”

Metal is a weird thing.

The genre that once included everyone from Led Zeppelin to Exodus to Gore has become splintered into a zillion sub-genres, most of them virtually indistinguishable from one another. (Pop quiz: What’s the difference between “blackened death metal” and “death metal”? Answer: Who cares?)

Terraform, who will be coming through Duluth in the middle of June, play a style of metal that has one of the most annoying monikers of all: “djent.” Meshuggah, the technical Swedish metal group, is credited with coining the term. It refers to a highly percussive guitar attack full of distorted stabs of syncopated bursts, and Terraform is clearly nuts for this kind of thing. Their first EP “Dream | Construct” is djent as all get-out.

But is it good? This is a difficult question to address. Looking at the EP as a whole, the songs are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and one could presumably take the component parts of each song and mix and match them like Legos without much effect on the overall presentation.

The formula is thus: vocalist doing death-metal growls, mid-tempo drums with double kicks prevalent, highly treated guitars stabbing away like robotic lunatics and occasional ambient bits. But, hey, many great metal bands could be written off in this kind of way.

The problem with this group — and with much of modern metal — is that it’s so technical, digitized and quantized that it removes all the humanity from the music. Really, there’s little difference between Terraform and, say, One Direction, when it comes down to it, because the music has been run through so many digital filters and aligned to a grid and perfectly edited. There is very little in the way of actual humanity here.

Listen to the guitars on the intro, “Induction” — toward the end, they’re playing what should be a heavy off-kilter riff, but because the recording is so sterile and constrained, because everything is landing perfectly in metronomic time, because there is no breathing room in the mix, it just sounds like Skrillex making crabcore or something.

A song like “Ascending Steps” should pummel, should overwhelm with its power, but because all the humanity has been drained out of it through digital editing and processing, it ends up feeling neutered and fussy. The guitars have all decay chopped off at the knees, so they end up sounding like malfunctioning synths. This is not in and of itself bad, but when they consistently sound like they’re being remixed by a DJ on the fly, it wears thin.

There are some good elements here, but the total package is seriously lacking in soul. Perhaps, they’re a different story live, but it’s hard to picture how they’d sound remotely the same without a ton of digital noise gates and effects and probably backing tracks. June 17, they’re at Beaner’s Central — see if they can pull it off for yourself.

Terraform / “Dream | Construct”

Recorded by: Ben Monroe, Steven Lane and Julian Rodriguez

Produced by: Julian Rodriguez


Personnel: Jake Olson (vocals), Mike Schuler (drums), Chris Galetka (bass), Josh Solvedt (guitar), Nick Kelly (guitar)

Upcoming show: 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 17 at Beaner’s Central, 324 N. Central Ave.

Tickets: $7 at the door

Listen to the EP.

Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at