Any band that market their music as “modern metal” usually have a nefarious agenda to infuse their music with pop and hip-hop. You can expect glitch effects, R&B-inspired autotune vocals, trap beats, and a ridiculous street image that will go out of fashion by the time you finish reading this review. Though Ukrainian quartet, Space of Variations, have no time for fashion or crafting a futuristic image at a time of war with Russia, they fall into the trap of most other clichés. They take nu metal, the edgy pop of Bring Me the Horizon, and the metalcore of Architects and expect you to sit through forty-four minutes of their music. Yet somehow the adrenaline levels and experimentation have an urgency that warrant at least one repeat listen. IMAGO is not as dreadful as it sounds.
The chances are you know Space of Variations as the support for Jinjer on their 2019 Macro world tour, but they have little in common with their fellow Ukrainians other than a misguided respect for Mudvayne. Opener, ‘Someone Else’, is a no-nonsense blend of nu metal and hardcore, like the recent Orthodox album, and would be more of a thrill if the guitar riffs did anything other than rely on the drop-tuning for their power and purpose. You learn to ignore the cameo electronic beats and frothing synth arpeggiators of modern metalcore, but Space of Variations show how to use them on ‘Vein.mp3’. This is an excellent song built on a Depeche Mode sequencer that stays constant throughout, despite the heavy pollution of the Slaughter to Prevail riffing and the catchy chorus.
Like most metalcore bands, the Ukrainians spoil the heavy moments with choruses that belong on an emo or pop punk record. ‘Outer Space’ is a forgettable affair, but ‘1M Followers’ deserves a better focal point. This could be the centrepiece of the album with its magnificent double-kick beats and chugging guitars putting it in the same domain as Code Orange. But, of course, they drop in a boy band chorus to undo the good work. ‘DNA Molecule in a Million of Dimensions’ is much better and more uncompromising in its ferocity. Now you can hear the Mudvayne influence but with a flavour of Emmure and ten56 to keep it ugly. It also produces the one genuine moment of incredulity on the album when they experiment with ecclesiastical vocal harmonies in the middle eight.
It’s impressive that we even have an album considering the situation in their homeland, and for that we should congratulate Space of Variations for their fortitude and determination. They know how to deliver a crushing metal experience and possess strong musicianship skills, but the guitars could be more imaginative. Like Infected Rain, their approach relies too much on the awesome roar of the vocals to keep you in the sparring posture. The industrial nu-metalcore of ‘Brahmastra’ would be far more effective without the wimpish chorus, just as the attempt to create a sentimental mood on ‘Face to Face’ falls flat because it has weak melody. The latter has an impressive metallic edge when it gets into gear, but Space of Variations should listen to the latest Northlane album if they want a standard to aim for with this type of music.
Glitchy metalcore is nothing new, but it already has too many disciples and not enough bands that can correct the flaws of the original purveyors of this style. Space of Variations might call their music “modern metal”, but it will sound dated in two years when the next big thing infiltrates the metalcore sound and renders it even more irrelevant.
Release Date: 23/09/2023
Record Label: Napalm Records
Standout tracks: Vein.mp3; DNA Molecule in a Million of Dimensions; Brahmastra
Suggested Further Listening: Infected Rain – Ecdysis (2021), Mudvayne – L.D. 50 (2000), Orthodox – Learning to Dissolve (2022)