The fact Human Traces can release new music and plan a three-part schedule of EPs is a triumph. The Berlin-based trio soldiered on in 2017 when they had their debut album ready, only for the original vocalist to depart on the eve of the recording. This fortuitous event allowed them to connect with Seoul-born vocalist, Kyuho Lee, who stepped in for their Chastise Mankind album before the South Korean government drafted him for military service back home. Now, they operate as an international trio with Johannes Löffler (drums) and Tom Haberland (guitar) directing the process from Germany and Lee remaining in his native country. Clearly, the remote working conditions did not affect their creative process on their first of three EPs – Akt I is an enchanting piece of experimental metal with porous borders and mobile structures.
Haberland’s guitar tone and tunings draw from the Meshuggah well of inspiration, but this is not a second-rate adaptation of the Swedish maestros. If anything, opener, ‘I die therefore I am’, will remind you of Periphery in the way Kyuho Lee introduces the song with throbbing-eyed intensity and the same technique as Spencer Sotelo on their iconic ‘Blood Eagle’ single from Periphery IV: Hail Stan. But Human Traces have less concern for finding a groove in the field of chaos and prefer to keep you guessing with their foundations. Already, at the one-minute mark, they slow things down and search for their inner self with a sporadic succession of drop-tuned guitar fractures. Löffler’s drums do more than follow – they make way on the canvass for the other instruments to express themselves. Those of you that despaired at the last Vildhjarta album will find the record you wanted here. This is prog metal played like Meshuggah with the abstract structures of Gorguts.
The mood of Akt I: Life to Die For throbs with a febrile atmosphere of nihilistic self-doubt and transcendent self-mastery. At times, the rhythms animate with imperious might, yet the dynamics flutter like Stravinsky. ‘Also sprach Zarathustra Kapitel 34’ recalls the spontaneous avant-grind performance art of the debut Fantomas albums. The crisp double-kick drum accents and violent palm-muted guitar stabs provide a strange platform for Lee to deliver his soliloquy of contemplation. If French surrealist, Antonin Artaud, could imagine a theatre of cruelty for the 2020s, it would probably sound like this – disjointed, prone to arbitrary violence, unorthodox in shape, hostile to itself as much as others. Mike Patton fans will delight at the introspective crooning and asphyxiating squeals at the end of ‘Interior Monologue’. The pop bass at the beginning gives you something to cling to underneath the dissonant chords and rhythmic chugs that seldom land where you expect. How does it go from this to a down-tuned dirge of ever-changing sequences in less than four minutes without losing its sense of purpose or coherency? Humanity’s Last Breath should pay attention for their next album.
As the first of three instalments, Akt I sets a high standard for its sequels. Listen how they end this record with a moody cinematic piece of discordant guitars and eerie percussion accents. ‘Interludium’ deserves a furnishing of the French horn or even an alto-sax to turn it into a piece befitting of a David Cronenberg movie. The careful craftsmanship behind this spacious despair is of the highest order and will make you dash for your Gorguts records once more. It might be strange and unpredictable, but that’s what makes it so unique.
Release Date: 28/10/2022
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: I Die Therefore I Am; Interior Monologue
Suggested Further Listening: Autarkh – Form in Motion (2021), Gorguts – Colored Sands (2013), Hadal Maw – Oblique Order EP (2021)