Hertfordshire quartet, Sentient, are one of the fiercest live bands in the English home counties. You limp away from their shows with aching joints and the lingering effects of tinnitus. They play seven-string guitars; their vocalist sounds like he ate a bowl of nails for breakfast; the drums never settle on one regular beat. You might even set tomorrow as your goal to start going to the gym once you hear the band’s debut EP. Sentient is Dead is a muscular piece of technical metalcore that dares to flirt with brighter textures.
Fans of the band will know the opening salvo of track one (‘Destroy’) and track two (‘Rebuild’) in its previous guise as one song. The band re-recorded it and split it into two parts to give Sentient is Dead a linear flow rather than a segmented one. ‘Destroy’ builds from the drone of a volume swell and uses hostile atmospherics to give drummer, Ricky Kennelly, a platform to showcase the might of his staccato techniques. Nothing is as it seems with Sentient’s music. On the surface, they draw from the well of Meshuggah’s misaligned grooves for inspiration, and you can feel the blob of the guitar distortion bouncing off the walls and swerving round the room like a bullet. ‘Rebuild’ relies on the low-end for its pummelling intensity like Veil of Maya’s Marc Okubo leaning into one of his famous rhythmic curves. Here, Joe Burton, takes the mic like a machine gun operative with a new class of trainees to impress. Words sizzle and scald in a guttural tone of voice. Guitar fills explore high-register patterns when not circling the regular beat.
The band started in 2018 from a common love of Pantera and Lamb of God and built their sound on the forward-thinking prog metal of Periphery and Tesseract. These ingredients are common in the djent sub-genre, and Sentient see no reason to downplay these features. Like St Albans bruisers, Kodama, the group seek mastery of their environment with impatient guitar chugs that stray from common time as easy as a dog leaves its master in an open meadow. ‘Phantom Limb’ writhes in a rotational headpin of discordant guitar chords and imaginative drum patterns. Both lock together like a Just Stop Oil protestor chaining their arm to a public monument. Can you feel the unease?
Of course, Sentient are aware of the difficulties of reinvigorating the progressive metalcore/djent scene. Nobody likes the ‘d’ word. The mean riffs of ‘Gaslighter’ squirm through the amps and into your bloodstream like a pathogen. Listen to the dexterity of the guitars – you can only admire the body-slamming shapes passing through your veins. By contrast, ‘Lost’, is the one song on the record that aims for a timbre of pastel colours. It embraces risk with a latent trepidation. Joe Burton’s experiment with clean vocal passages betrays an atonality unsuitable to the music. These six minutes of spacious pondering float towards no defined location despite a valiant attempt to avoid any semblance of a conventional song structure. Reverb-heavy keyboards leave you with a blurred vision.
We’ve waited five years for the first studio recording, and it sets Sentient on a path to greater things. But, of course, bands that start with the lowest guitars never return to higher tunings. It places the Hertfordshire quartet in a quandary – how to evolve when Meshuggah have already done everything in this sphere. Perhaps the answer lies in the experimentation of ‘Lost’.
They aim to release a second EP before the end of 2023. Sentient is Dead is a strong debut, but the hard work starts from here.
Release Date: 02/06/2023
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Rebuild, Gaslighter
Suggested Further Listening: Kodama – Left Hand Path EP (2020), Meshuggah – Nothing (2002), Becoming the Archetype – Children of the Great Extinction (2022)