Although Project 86 initially got a foothold in the early aughts Christian heavy scene (more specifically rapcore, but who’s splitting hairs?), the Orange County export continually proved heavier and darker than many bands they shared shelves with at Christian bookstores. In fact, albums like the austere, hard-riffing Songs to Burn Your Bridges By (2003) proved too unfiltered for the industry (hence its initial independent release). Project 86 actually put their last three albums out on their own. This independence allows them to push themselves past nu-metal, rapcore, post-hardcore and beyond. It certainly explains how they could bid farewell with a double concept album about a technocratic dystopia. The story’s first part, OMNIcontains Project 86‘s heaviest, most complex music to date.
Such a densely story-driven album puts the writing chops of vocalist Andrew Schwab on full display. It’s no wonder he wrote OMNI in book form as well. His wordplay in opener, “Apotheosis,” effectively sets the stage for humanity on the precipice of completing the Nietzschean death of God through technological advancement: “Once the author… We replace you with an algorithm.” This is the kind of drama needed for a crescendo of brittle synths and lumbering detuned chugs.
As vocoded chants give way to voracious screams, Project 86 has clearly stopped being “heavy, for a rock band.” To that effect, “Virtual Signal” comes through with double-kick, syncopated fretwork and enraged howls. Their take on melodic metalcore shares a digital penchant with the likes of Code Orangewhile retaining enough accessibility for long-time fans.
Also like newer Code Orange releases, Project 86 uses electronic elements unapologetically, but not obnoxiously. For every synth line keyboardist/guitarist Darren King provides in “0 _ 1,” there’s an agile guitar arpeggiation for bombastic breakdown for him to lock into with Blake Martin. Considering Martin’s time in Haste The Day and A Plea For Purging, it’s no surprise his riffs often veer toward 2000s Solid State Records steeze. “Metatropolis” actually doubles down on this stylistic current with chaotic beat switches, but those massive, marching chug riffs that take the cake as they explode like mortar shells. While “Metatropolis” rides the beatdown amid harrowing synth leads, the down section of “0 _ 1” highlights the intricacy of the album’s production. It also offers the hushed, cleanly sung side of Schwab‘s vocals, as opposed to his newly-adopted guttural style.
Project 86 is not the first band to tackle heady sci-fi philosophizing. It has become a bit of a staple of heavy music. The difference here becomes how the band elaborates on concepts and builds a world without bogging down the songs in pretension. Take the three interlude tracks, for instance, which are more than filler or palate cleansers. Through the use of faux public service announcements, the dark ambiance of “User Agreement” and glitched electronica of “Trust the Science” respectively illustrate the selling of one’s body and soul to THE OMNI’s artificial intelligence, and the restructuring of society after computing a way to cheat death. These feelings crystalize during the spoken word passage “Icarus / Prometheus: “In a virtual realm of our own invention/ Your fallen sons and your creation united in one purpose/ To circumvent the ultimate terror: mortality.”
The weightiness of OMNI‘s subject matter is far from a crutch for the songs. The hits keep coming with the apocalyptic string bends and seismic drops of “When the Belfry Speaks.” This isn’t even just intense by Project 86 standards, as the guitarists’ bottom string abuse reaches levels that’d make many a djentle-man green with envy. The one-to-1000 dynamic shifts are fit to level mountains, layering atonal noise, and demented screams and urgent spoken word diatribes. It’s more akin to Author & Punishment than anything nu-metal. Even so, a real curveball comes through “Tartarus Kiss,” an inexplicable foray into lower-case goth rock. Dreary chords and piano drizzling adorn a sluggish drum look—like Mass Attack with Schwab‘s baritone drawl channeling his inner Michael Gira (yes, Project 86 can be compared to Swans now).
Schwab truly pulls out the stops during “Skin Job,” as he bridges Chester Bennington-esque distorted singing and painful snarls with that classic post-hardcore talk-singing. But really, that’s to keep up with the progressive turn the arrangement takes. Drummer Abishai Collingsworth achieves the Meshuggah technique of making 4/4 beats sound insanely complicated, and that applies to the guitar riffs as well. It’s odd to compare nerdy Swedish groove-meisters like Vildhjarta and Project 86but the band pulls it off—from the gut-rumbling low-end attack to the eerie, spectral bridge section.
“Spoon Walker” may start as a straightforward metalcore slugfest, but its tasteful rhythm changes keep the central riff as fresh as its panicked dissonance and theatrical vocal tirades. But then… the doom metal arrives. No sooner has the song’s mid-section faded into droning soundscapes when it gets sucked down a sinkhole of suffocating sludge. It’s an apt backdrop for Schwab‘s depiction of a forsaken deity wreaking vengeance on a world languishing in the consequences of its arrogance: “I am become death the destroyer of worlds/ There will be no ruins/ No trace of your failed attempt to abominate me.” It’s no surprise that allusions to J.Robert Oppenheimer pair so well with bone-shaking chords and trudging drums.
With the ominous outro “Tears in Reign,” Schwab embodies the voice of a remnant after societal fallout, seeing the destruction caused by humanity’s attempt to become immortal as “A reminder… That Beyond your limits of dominion/ Indwells the arbiter of devastation.” It’s a sobering reminder, as the modern age often seems like a race to create a synthetic utopia. But then, Schwab‘s words wouldn’t have hit as hard if Project 86 hadn’t used that narrative device to release their best album to date. In fact, it might be for the best that the album’s upcoming second part (to be announced) is projected to have a lighter sonic touch, as it seems these guys have reached the apex of their most punishing elements.