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Psygnosis - Mercury review

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Band: Psygnosis
Album: Mercury
Release date: September 2023

01. Öpik-Oort
02. Eclipse
03. Sunshine
04. Caloris Basin
05. Uranometria

As much as there’s pleasure in coming upon a great album from a previously unfamiliar band, there’s also fun in reacquainting oneself with a band that’s been off one’s radar for a long period of time, particularly if, as in the case of myself and Psygnosis, there’s been a significant change that’s occurred in the interim.

My one previous encounter with Psygnosis was their 2014 album Human Be[ing], a respectable progressive death metal album that I liked enough at the time to add to my collection, although my prevailing memory of it was its extensive use of samples (upon a relisten, using the whole speech from The Great Dictator is now very overdone, but I can’t remember many other bands sampling Donnie Darko). As it turns out, Human Be[ing] was the final act of note by the band before they underwent an extensive overhaul; only founding member Rémi Vanhove remains from the 2014 line-up. More notably, the instrumental composition of the group has been restructured; there has been no replacement for former vocalist Yohan Oscar, rendering Psygnosis an instrumental-only act, while the conventional metal spine has been bolstered by cellist Raphaël Verguin as a permanent member, following his guest feature on Human Be[ing].

On Mercury, the group’s second with this new arrangement and first with the current line-up, Psygnosis do remain classifiable as a progressive death metal band; there’s plenty of softer, meandering passages among these lengthy songs, but when they up the ante, there’s some ballistic drumming and sharp riffing. The combination of extreme prog with classical stringed instruments has been popularized by Ne Obliviscaris, and it’s not an inappropriate reference point for Mercury; particularly on the song “Caloris Basin”, the jackhammer bass drum-heavy drumwork, the chord choices for the tremolo riffing and the soul-stirring cello, all working in tandem, is very much in the ballpark of recent NeO material.

However, if I was to think of one band that most comes to mind when listening to Mercury, it’s the post-rock compatriots of Psygnosis in Bruit ≤. This obviously isn’t for the extreme metallic parts, but more so due to the ‘cinematic’ aspirations of Psygnosis; there’s continued use of samples and electronics in the quieter passages, and when the cello also comes into play, as in the opening stages of “Eclipse”, it channels some of the atmospheric melancholia of Bruit ≤’s The Machine Is Burning.... In addition to these soft sequences, there’s also some post-rock influence in the heavier sequences; atmospheric tremolo lines are placed above the metal crunch in “Eclipse” and “Öpik-Oort”.

Another key element of Mercury also comes in its heavier portions. While prog-death is still part of the Psygnosis fabric, some of the metal on this new album takes a different form. Closer “Uranometria” in particular, but also portions on other songs, have more to do with djent, from the crunching tone to the polyrhythmic chugs. Such sounds were present back on Human Be[ing], but arguably are now an even more logical feature in the band’s writing; there’s plenty of instrumental djent out there, and a lot of it is recorded with aspirations of grandeur, so a cinematic band such as this one has a lot of pre-existing inspiration to draw upon. “Uranometria” fluctuates between the more atmospheric djent, with slow, complex patterns pounding away beneath ambient synths, and full-blooded angular, technical aggression, the latter serving as the vicious middle phase of this 15-minute mammoth of a closer.

With all this considered, has time and a restructuring paid dividends for Psygnosis? I did revisit Human Be[ing] in the build-up to writing this review, and while it does still sound good, I can see why it didn’t have the staying power to find a more prominent place in my music library. One thing that has improved in comparison on Mercury is the production; the muddiness of their 2014 effort has been replaced with a clarity and depth that serves these songs well. Beyond that, Mercury is a nicely atmospheric and at-times stirring release with a good degree of musical variety. It’s not especially memorable, and it’s not left me eager for re-listens, but it generally makes a good impression, particularly on the album highlights “Eclipse” and “Caloris Basin”.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 7
Production: 8

Written on 23.09.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not

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