Album Review: ARTIFICIAL LANGUAGE Now We Sleep
Comprised of vocalist Shay Lewis, bassist Joshua Riojas, drummer Jeron Schapanksy, keyboardist Jonathon Simpson, and guitarists Charlie Robbins and Victor Corral, Californian progressive metal troupe Artificial Language made quite the impression with 2017’s debut sequence, The Observer. An exhilaratingly lively dive into style-shifting adventurousness, it mixed the operatic singing of bands like Leprous and Karnivool with the chameleonic frenzy of bands like Native Construct and Between the Buried and Me. Two years later, the sextet returns with Now We Sleep, an equally ambitious and appealing collection that solidifies the group’s place among today’s most auspicious genre newcomers.
First and foremost, Lewis continues to excel as a singer. Opener “The Back of My Mind” is proof enough, as he effortlessly transitions between softly spoken scorn and in-your-face outcries with damn near unequivocal range and passion. In fact, his tone, force, and melodies on this track alone rival those of his more well-known peers and influences—his presence remains just as emotionally commanding throughout the disc. For instance, both “Endless Naught” the penultimate “Keep Yourself Hidden” find him reaching new heights of high-pitched harmonies, while “The Wild Haunt” utilizes interlocking falsetto backing vocals to elevate an already immensely moving and catchy chorus. He astounds from start to finish.
Of course, Lewis’ role is only as impactful as the arrangements surrounding him. On that front, the five musicians ensure that each track is an intimidatingly inventive and intricate jigsaw puzzle of intensity, textures, and feeling. The aforementioned “The Back of My Mind” initially sets an optimistically earthy environment via bird chirps, light guitar patterns, and delicate synth and drum complements. From there, it’s a whirlwind of alluring djent freak-outs and classical reprieves.
Later, “Pulses” is relatively sparse and atmospheric, with lovely strings and a mournful piano core bookending its more accustomed progressive metal middle. Similarly, lead single “Trail of Light” is somewhat cosmic in how its symphonic tapestries meld with its starry keyboard notes and clean guitar arpeggios. It’s easily among the most dynamic pieces on Now We Sleep, as is its follow-up, the manic, jazzy, and math rock-tinged “There’s No Bottom to This.” Going back to “Keep Yourself Hidden,” it’s subtly Schapanksy’s show since he decorates the landscape with resourceful percussive tricks (the periodic accordion is a nice touch, too).
A special nod must be given to the record’s closing title track because of how it makes great use of guest singer Michael Lessard (The Contortionist) during its seven-minute reflective dissent. It begins with a polarized blend of plucked strings, patient piano chords, and acoustic guitar lines as both singers join forces for poignant reflections. Eventually, a sleek guitar solo juxtaposes some especially vivacious bass riffs from Riojas, and halfway in, airy synths offer a quick breather before more epic variations return. All in all, it’s quite an impressive finish.
Although it doesn’t outright best its predecessor, Now We Sleep is far from a sophomore slump. Rather, it maintains the magnetism and strive of The Observer while also upholding its own identity and idiosyncrasies throughout. Each member gives his all from start to finish, and the successful inclusion of Lessard at the end makes it clear that the band should work with even more genre greats on the next record. Rarely has a new act proven so special right out of the gate, and Artificial Language has just done it twice in a row. Don’t let this one pass you by.