posted on 6/2008 By:
I like to think of myself as being a reasonably tolerant person in the balance of things. That said, some specific behaviors drive me up the fucking wall every single time I encounter them, and the well-traveled practice of assigning your band its own private genre term is one of them. Norway's Atrox are yet another entry in the shameful annals thereof; they've manufactured the term "schizo metal" to describe their metallic stylings. Now, in my experience with "schizo" as a pop-culture descriptor, the person or group in question is supposedly bat-shit insane and/or possessed of multiple conflicting personalities (the medical definition of schizophrenia aside). Presumably, Atrox adheres to this template, though there's little in their slightly unusual but hardly brain-numbing output to suggest such erratic genius. What there's plenty of is industrial/electronic influence, bouncing rhythms, and surprisingly approachable choruses—Binocular has as much in common with 'tribal' acts like Soulfly as the prog luminaries they're trying so hard to align themselves with.
That's not to say that Atrox approach music in a purely conventional fashion. There are plenty of structural left turns on this disc, as opener "Retroglazed" makes obvious with its flamboyant synthesizers and ominous film samples. This is apparently Atrox's fifth release—though it's admittedly my first experience with the band—and Binocular marks their transition from female to male vocals. Rune Sorgard delivers an admirable enough performance in the Mike Patton vein, albeit with a heavy set of manacles confining his delivery to just a few timbres, and the band's instrumental section is roundly talented, with the rhythmic combination of Tor-Arne Helgeson on drums and Erik Paulsen on bass proving especially impressive in their delivery of off-kilter grooves. Despite Per Spjotvold's initially ostentatious keys, he and guitarist Eivind Vjoseide largely stay away from the spotlight and provide texture as the rhythm section propels Sorgard through a maze of wacky segues from brooding verse to soaring chorus.
While Atrox's formula seems novel enough at first, the entertainment value begins to fade as you realize that "sample-verse-weird keys part-prechorus-chorus-repeat" pretty much defines every song on Binocular. As the band's loping polyrhythms and loud-quiet dynamics become more and more familiar, their intended "schizo" sheen begins to fade to a dull and slightly nu-metal-esque luster. In short, Atrox lose the element of surprise pretty damn quickly—far more quickly than cited influences like Arcturus, Ayreon and Meshuggah—and become fairly tame head-bobbing fare after only a few tracks.
So Atrox aren't the most challenging band out there, which isn't necessarily a bad thing—but it does render their "schizo" tag just a little bit misleading. These guys have plenty of chops and a well-established fanbase who will probably excoriate me for the usual "you don't get it maaaaaan" reasons, but ultimately Binocular is superficial enough musically to bore more adventurous listeners.
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