Chicago disruptors, Veil of Maya, last released an album in 2017. As usual, it satisfied the loyal fanbase and failed to pique the attention of anyone outside of metalcore/deathcore/djent circles. Is there a more underrated band in contemporary metal? Now on their seventh LP after teasing three enthralling singles during the Covid lockdowns, they decided to leave them off [m]other, confident that the new material would suffice. It’s just one of many strange decisions surrounding this record. People call the quartet a genre-bending musical outfit, but you’ll need a PhD to understand this latest studio effort from Marc Okubo and crew.
It’s not a good idea to start an album with a blatant homage to Meshuggah’s ‘Future Breed Machine’ when metal puritans have already dismissed your art as a pastiche of Sweden’s most influential band since Abba. Everything right down to the alarm bleeping in the intro through to the deliberate misalignment of drums and guitar could be re-packaged as Future Breed Machine, Part II. We might call it Sumeriancore in recognition of the distinctive blend of Meshuggah and metalcore that artists such as Born of Osiris and Periphery weaved together over the last fifteen years as clients of Sumerian Records. Like Misha Mansoor, Marc Okubo is one of the few musicians in metal who composes in polyrhythmic mode. ‘Artificial Dose’ is bewildering in its ambition. The Aphex Twin intro soon gives way to a barrage of violent syncopated guitar riffs and offers the first glimpse of a melodic chorus. Vocalist, Lukas Magyar, is the reason why Veil of Maya no longer write deathcore. His range is remarkable. Inserting an earnest R&B phrasing into the middle eight would have been unthinkable with previous vocalist, Brandon Butler.
Veil of Maya want you to find order in chaos. Thirty-five minutes of mind-boggling complexity and glitchy guitar noises make it difficult to comprehend anything in this audio mayhem. The double-jointed riffing of ‘Godhead’ will remind you of Car Bomb. Think of it as drop-tuned mathcore with an arsenal of boneheaded chugs and eye-popping vocal rage. Five listens are not enough to make sense of it. Likewise, ‘Red Fur’ can’t decide if it wants to be an electronic pop song or a metal mash up. Magyar steers the band towards a melodic chorus, but they soon erase the catchy elements with a bizarre dubstep/djent breakdown that will excite the Vildhjarta fanbase and alienate everyone else.
Did this album start as a Meshuggah worship piece? They leave few traces of this in their music after track four, where the excellent ‘[re]connect’ jams your sensory organs with an overload of data. Okubo’s fretwork sounds like an AI impersonation of Steve Vai. Magyar’s flirtation with a falsetto in the chorus is almost as poignant as 2015’s classic ‘Mikasa’ single. The left-turn in the second-third of this record is a deliberate attempt to prove that the band have more in their repertoire than djent riffing and deathcore aggression. Okubo’s programming skills come to the fore on ‘Disco Kill Party’ and ‘Mother Pt. 4’, both of which fizzle on a dystopian sci-fi vibe. The former anchors a repeat chorus among the sonic insanity; the latter uses a synth arpeggiator for its foundations and proceeds to extinguish any trace of a conventional structure with virtuoso tech death patterns. It’s over before you can zoom in for a forensic analysis.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of this album is the absence of at least one anthemic song in the mould of ‘Pool Spray’ from 2017’s False Idol LP. Veil of Maya might regret leaving ‘Viscera’ and ‘Outrun’ as standalone singles rather than including them as key components of [m]other. It’s ironic that the last third of this record embraces the adrenaline pulse of extreme metal. You can hear the group’s tech-savvy deathcore origins in ‘Synthwave Vegan’. Drummer, Sam Applebaum, must be a nervous wreck after the things Okubo asks him to do. It’s understandable if his therapy involves forming a Beatles covers band. His snare hits land in places with the least oxygen on closing track, ‘Death Runner’. The excitement gives way to fear and keeps you on edge.
Veil of Maya 2.0 began in 2014. There’s no sign of a status quo forming after nine years with Lukas Magyar at the helm. Maybe that’s a good thing. Like digital nomads, they have no permanent habitat. But will we continue to underrate them after this effort?
Release Date: 12/05/2023
Record Label: Sumerian Records
Standout tracks: Artificial Dose, [re]connect, Synthwave Vegan
Suggested Further Listening: Car Bomb – Meta (2016), The Myopia Condition – Event Horizon (2020), Periphery – Periphery V: Djent Is Not a Genre (2023)