Derek Rydquist: Vocals
Justin McKinney: Guitar
Christopher Beattie: Guitar
Brandon Giffin: Bass
While far too many progressive and technical death metal bands are happy to walk the same path and stick to a tried-and-true sound, on their second full-length The Zenith Passage forge new and exhilarating territory. From start to finish, Datalysium is driven by imagination, and played by artists who have full command of their instruments, creating something that stands out of any pack while maintaining what made them such a riveting proposition in the first place. When asked to describe the record, the band do so vividly: "Imagine if Necrophagist and Meshuggah were married, and Cynic and Extol got married, then years later they went to a swingers party to spice up their relationships, which then became a regular thing. From this, they all had a kid together, no one knows who the biological father is, but that's cool because they're co-parenting. That kid then grows up, idolizing David Lynch, Ridley Scott and film noir. He then goes to film school for a couple of years, but drops out because he'd rather play synth music, but ends up broke and homeless. Then Datalysium would be that kid."
With an overhauled lineup that sees original guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist Justin McKinney joined by guitarist Christopher Beattie (Dreamer), vocalist Derek Rydquist (ex-The Faceless, John Frum) and bassist Brandon Giffin (ex-The Faceless, Cynic), everyone brings something special to Datalysium. The skillset of Giffin and Rydquist in particular have helped catapult The Zenith Passage's sound into "such a cool, new territory", while Beattie brings the technical prowess and elegance the band were looking for in a guitarist. Together, they worked to push disparate influences more to the forefront of their sound. "There's always been things that were subtly done on previous releases, like jazz fusion passages, dissonant black metal, synth and orchestral elements, as well as singing. What we haven't done before is put those influences and ideas more upfront in the songwriting and production. Singing has become a pretty prominent part of some of these songs, as well as synth orchestration and really eerie, dissonant, pissed off black metal influence." The result is the perfect marriage of technical head-fuckery, atmosphere, melody, and shifting dynamics, constantly demanding the listener's undivided attention. From opener "The Axiom Of Error" with its stop-start attack to the agitated, richly textured and unstoppable "Synaptic Depravation" or the dramatic, lush and epic closing title track, they are relentlessly creative and insistently push their sound in interesting, engrossing directions.
Though it is not a concept album per se, there are a couple of concepts that run through the lyrics of the record, and "ultimately we explore some concerning impacts of technology on humanity, and how its progression can breed fear and loneliness, which in turn can be used for control and obsoletion." The title relates directly to this, for "as technology progresses, we become more deeply ingrained in it. This is inevitable and we are all participating. Datalysium is a term we made up for where we feel people are being promised their lives will end, in the splendor of some digitized immortality. A place we are willingly building for humanity as we continue to invent ourselves out of relevance and usefulness." Such themes are perfectly married to the combination of mechanical rhythms and locked in riffing and spiraling keyboard parts, giving the feeling often that you are listening to the work of a machine that is capable of creating human emotion.
The album was recorded between McKinney's home studio and Rydquist's apartment, with some vocals tracked at Flatline Audio with Dave Otero (Cattle Decapitation, WAKE), who also mixed the album. McKinney handled the tracking, while they brought in Ryan Williams (The Black Dahlia Murder, John Frum) to produce some of the bass and vocals. Having been friends with Williams for years, it felt natural to have him be a part of the recording process, while Otero also contributed profoundly. A longtime friend of McKinney, this is the first time they have actually collaborated on a record. "Dave is the kind of dude that just gets it, when going for the sound or idea we have in mind, even bringing an idea to light that we never even thought to do and collaborating and expanding on these ideas further. We were expecting some really epic stuff from Dave, but the end result of that has proved to be way more than those expectations."
Accomplished as it is, Datalysium is in fact one of two records The Zenith Passage have been working on. Initially, it was supposed to be the latter release, but they decided to switch the order of release and dedicate more time to the following record, which has "a symphonic, cinematic, darker type of vibe." With plans to tour Datalysium in the mean time, the band are in a great place, all the members are close and eager to keep pushing ahead after a long time away. They are also confident that they offer something that most bands are not doing, trying to think outside of the box and both "pushing the envelope of the genre while also paying homage to the past in certain moments. We're bringing in genres of music that typically aren't a huge part of metal, ranging from film scores to atmospheric dark synth, jazz fusion to the sound of an idling motorcycle. We're doing all of this while attempting to tell a harmonic and lyrical story that keeps the listener engaged and wondering what could happen next."