Album Review: Frontierer - 'Unloved'

7 August 2018 | 1:14 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

Pure, relentless rage.

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Lately I've been listening to one of the most intensive ear endurance tests I've ever had the sheer joy of experiencing: Frontierer's recently released second LP, 'Unloved'. As the newly birthed sibling to 2015's ludicrously heavy debut album, 'Orange Mathematics', this new 14-track effort sees these chaotic, tech-metal Scots push their sonic envelope to even further bombarding extremes. If you've heard older songs like 'Bunsen' or 'Bleak', then you might think it nigh on impossible that such an incredibly noisy and volatile sound could go even harder, faster and deeper. Yet by god, Frontierer have done just that with 'Unloved'. For 'Unloved' will go down as one of the most strenuous, most intensive, most brilliant and most bat-shit insane extreme metal records of 2018.

Produced and written by guitarist Pedram Valiani, the gnarly rollercoaster of 'Unloved' reaches 1,000 right away with the tectonic intro of opener 'Tumoric'. And boy, this beast of a record rarely ever lets up from this savage origin point. With the exceptions of the guitar-only intro to the sluggish tempo and hulking sounds of 'Electric Gag', the Car Bomb-esque melodic moments on both 'Unloved & Oxidized' and 'Heartless 101', and the brief chug-vocal combo during the bridge of 'Darkside Moonstroll', there's barely any respite here. Save for a few electronic drums, filter effects, and 90s trance samples scattered around. However, few people are coming to Frontierer for expansive dynamics, spacious atmospherics and long-drawn-out pauses. No, you came here because you love bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Ion Dissonance and wanted to have your fuckin' head caved in. And that's exactly what you receive. This record is pretty much a cerebral and surgical strike upon your senses over the course of a wonderfully debilitating and exhaustive hour; where the digital world hits hard and metallic debris twist together in staggering, beautiful pain.

[caption id="attachment_1103664" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Frontierer, 2018. Pretty much, if you don't like this album, then you're a coward and a poser.[/caption]

Frontierer is a band that really is the sum of its individual parts. Bassist Calum Craig and drummer Owen Hughes brutalise your physical and emotional stability with choking, air-tight rhythms throughout this full-length. It's the type of tightly grid-aligned rhythm section assault that leaves zero room for error but puts everything into unrelenting energy that cannot be stopped or even slowed down. Songs like 'Designer Chemtrails' - a notably ridiculous standout - just become dizzying at times, but integral and amazing all the same. Trust me, the polyrhythms here are as good as any from the greatest Meshuggah cuts - Frontierer studied and learned from the best. Plus, while the sense of timing and tempo may take a little to adapt to, once you see the light, it's like an extreme metal nirvana unfolding before you. Because whatever time and effort you put into 'Unloved', it will reward you greatly in return.

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Now, what vocalist and lyricist Chad Kapper may lack in a diverse vocal range and differing tone, he more than makes up for it with his breathless, aggressive delivery that - just like the accompanying instrumentals - seldom lets up. Monotonous it will be for some, but he's got the right timbre and stamina to front such chaotic music. For just like the drums or densely packed guitars, his voice is an "instrument" of violence; at times blending back into the mix to create this behemoth wall-of-sound effect. As on many tracks here, it sounds like he's exercising some inner demons, in more ways than one, and is pushing his vocal chords to the brink. Yet that just adds another powerful, surging layer on top of a record (and a band) that is definitely not for the faint of hearts. On another note, Chad's bleak yet somewhat hard to decipher lyrics also grow quite grim as the record pushes onward, but more on that topic soon enough.

Guitarists Dan Stevenson and Pedram (mainly) chug drop F chords within an inch of their lives, as they utilise hardcore whammy abuse and dissonant, high-register pinches and sequels. These freaked-out guitar parts, other than sounding absolutely fuckin' wicked, act like pistons firing-off to derive real tension; great tools to help establish the groove amongst the chaos of these 14 songs. 14 discordant, hectic tracks that would make bands like The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza blush heavily. These whirring, menacing pitchy guitars dance and bend around the vocals and usually strike over cracking snare drum hits or wherever there's a gap in the arrangement for them to slither through. Like fast descending bombs falling upon a war-torn landscape. Or, as my own personal favourite analogy went, like a deranged metal guitarist wishing to recreate the blaster effects from Star Wars with their DigiTech Whammy pedal collection. (I mean, Jesus H. Christ, just look at their goddamn pedals!) Either way, it's borderline psychotic, incredibly blistering, and undoubtedly killer stuff. The best examples of such moments being heard on crazed creations like 'Bombgnasher', 'Fluorescent Nights', 'Designer Chemtrails', 'Gower St.' and 'The Sound Of The Dredge In Deathcount Woods'.

Of course, Frontierer used such songwriting devices aplenty on their first record; par for the course elements for such bands these days. The same can be said for how Dan and Pedram often have their guitar lines following Owen's drum patterns and vice versa; syncopating all of the instrumentals with Chad's vocals for rapid, stop-start sections; and how they pair spazzy guitar intervals with rhythmically similar vocal phrases. All the oldest tricks in the book for bands like this, really. Yet the key difference is that, much like Frontierer's work in general, they execute it all infinitely better than most of their peers. Few others in extreme music can hold a candle to these Scots. While there's no real demand for more bands like Frontierer in this scene, these five dudes don't seem bothered and are clearly happy to take such sounds to their breaking point. We're just all along for the jagged and bewildering ride.

At the risk of sounding like Patrick Bateman from that infinitely meme-able American Psycho scene, many won't take note of the lyrics. I'd argue most listeners and reviewers of such bands aren't enthused for such discussions, but they should, goddamnit. As Frontierer's latest is accompanied by some cryptic yet personally searching lyrics about the self, one's internal mind, and what lies just beneath the surface of people and society. 'Unloved' talks of wires, of being re-wired, of machinery, of current flow, and of circuitry. It's more or less a call to acknowledge and compare synthetic with the fleshy. I myself view this as Frontier's and Chad's perspective on just how fucking heartless our world has grown, through whatever means, and the taking for granted of humanity, the natural, and of real, honest love. Perhaps a fitting parallel that the corrosion felt from various digital realms are seemingly harshly critiqued by a band that once started out as a solely online act in their early days. Well, that, or something really fucked up happened in their personal lives recently that has since fuelled such lyricism.

For instance, 'Bombgnasher' tackles a dead (or at least, slowly dying) system, and the ready-to-pop outrage of any hot topic on social media; "No longer will you feel all the emotion/With a mind like a bomb/Waiting to go off". 'The Sound of the Dredge in Deathcount Woods' talks about how connected yet also how separated we all are, and the numbness that ensues; "We are not alone (just inches apart)/Hanging by a thread choking". Similarly, 'Heartless 101' deals its hand in the entrenched callousness of some people, with vehement vocals calls of, "They’ve got a taste for themselves only/And you taste disgusting/To them you mean shit and ooze it". This record actually does go to a lot of different places lyrically. You just need to push through the brilliantly chaotic and insanely dense math-metal instrumentals and vocals to discover such deeper ideas. Man, thank god for Genius.

'Glitcher' equates "glitching" or of being a glitch in some wider metaphorical code with that of mistaken heartaches and personal failures, but that you must always go for it and learn; "There’s no time to waste in this present danger/Imagine if you fled and never faced the giant/The machine can only bleed from the motherboard/So climb in the womb and let nature takes its course". Or perhaps it's even a doomsday prophecy with lines like, "Now there’s a world defending the sound/The sound falling on deaf ears now/And the noise is cutting the ground/opening up hell in shifted swells". Who knows, maybe it's both?  The inner sorrow of 'The Destruction Artist' speaks a lot about "Cognitive disruption". Lyrics like "I’m still running/Running through what I call slums/Gravity is weighing me down" even call back to similar lyrical motifs of movement away from and towards adversity in 'Gower St.' just five songs earlier, a running theme for this record of sorts. (Sorry).

Elsewhere, a title like 'Neon Barnacle' may confuse but dig deeper to break down that phrase: something bright ('neon') merged and something that permanently attaches itself to something ('barnacle'). Making lines like "Bring the darkness to a standstill/Feel the glow and why it’s special/Light up the world like it’s paper/Give them reasons to hate you" land even harder about finding meaning and hope in life. Or perhaps the sinister nature of something far too good to be true? You decide. Burrowed within the maelstrom of 'Fluorescent Nights' lies this gem: "This is where we belong and this is where we have been drawn to suffer". Which seems more like Frontierer's statement of musical intent more than anything else. Just as the last line of 'Designer Chemtrails' - "The frequency it kills us all (and saves)"- does also; that there's both beauty and suffering in the music. 'Unloved & Oxidized' declares "there's no restitution" and asks the listener if they are "dead inside like me"; lyrically likening one's brain to a lightless, loveless cave. Which comes to a head in the bridge with "We all live in a robotic state of emotional entrapment". The song's layered, melodic climax de-morhps into electronic beats and high-end filters, ending ominously with "Don’t you worry/I’ll be okay". You never buy it, though. Then, closer 'Reprogrammed Dawn' features constant musings of "ctrl-alt-delete" motives, mirroring the cries of "Resend. Restart" back on 'Tumoric' at the very beginning of this superbly malevolent album. Creating this loop of removal and reattachment, completion and deletion, then a hard reboot followed by an endless rinse and repeat.

So, are these all personal messages about inner drive for self-improvement? A rebellion against the thoughts and actions of a cold and selfish world perhaps? Are these words pulled from some unknown source material that inspired the band or are they lyrics merely spelling out the madness of Frontierer's own universe? Until the band themselves say anything, I'll let you all be the judge of that. I personally think it's an instance of "all of the above".

As I said earlier, Frontierer is an hour-long math-metal ear endurance test but a fantastic one at that! It's face-melting from front to back. 'Unloved', as some people with a heavy Scottish accent might put it, is "fookin disgoosting". It sounds like a Frontierer record should sound, just now each and every element has been pushed right to the max. Yes, it all is a bit much, it's got little in the way of varying dynamics for the most part, and it definitely doesn't reinvent Frontierer's approach. Yet it needn't achieve those aspects to be this damned good, this affecting, and this bloody heavy. Of all the bands that I can think of who have doubled right down on what makes them great, I'm really glad it's Frontierer doing so and going in for the kill with their mathy, mind-breaking tech-metal sound with 'Unloved'. The ironic thing there, of course, is that these guys most certainly won't be going unloved from here on in. What an album!

1. Tumoric

2. Gower St.

3. Fluorescent Nights

4. Designer Chemtrails

5. Glitcher

6. Heartless 101

7. The Destruction Artist

8. Unloved & Oxidized

9. Bombgnasher

10. Electric Gag

11. The Sound Of The Dredge In Deathcount Woods

12. Neon Barnacle

13. Darkside Moonstroll

14. Reprogrammed Dawn

'Unloved' is out now!