The Algorithm: 'Polymorphic Code' roundtable review
French electronic/metal genius Rémi Gallego a.k.a. The Algorithm released his long-awaited debut album 'Polymorphic Code' on Monday, and, being one of the more controversial oddities of djent, we decided the album merited another roundtable review. Not many artists combine such a diverse and eclectic mix of genres as Rémi, but does his unique take on djent actually work?
There's going to be a lot of buzz about this record on the internet in the coming weeks, so we decided to help start things off by sharing our viewpoints in the form of a roundtable discussion, as we have done before for Monuments', Veil Of Maya's and Meshuggah's latest offerings.
The participants of this roundtable review are:
Does everyone here have any background whatsoever in electronic music?
Zyglrob: I have quite a wide-ranging background in electronic music. I used to listen to a lot more than I do now, but I've always listened to drum'n'bass, breakcore artists like Igorrr or Bong Ra, and more besides: I actually really like some of the older, dubbier dubstep, rather than Skrillex and other more modern dubstep artists, so I'd say I have quite a strong background in electronic music.
Meowzer: Comparitively, I have none whatsoever.
Clarity: I have quite an extensive background in electronic music, starting with trance and extending all the way to things like dubstep and different sorts of IDM. However, I don't listen to electronic music as much as metal, for example.
Klonere: I actually think I listen to more electronic music nowadays than I do metal! I have some knowledge of all the genres that we've mentioned so far, and probably two or three of my top five artists now would be electronic artists. I especially like dark ambience, so there's that!
Would everyone agree that this is an electronic album primarily rather than a metal album primarily? Was this a surprise to anyone?
Zyglrob: I think I saw it coming because when I listened to The Algorithm before I was a bit sceptical of it. Perhaps this was because the recording quality wasn't as good as it was on this album, or because he hadn't fully formed his sound then, but I didn't think the balance between metal and electronic worked so well at the time. On this album, I think it does work.
Meowzer: I wasn't taken aback by it really. I feel like all of his previous work was pretty heavy on the electronic side of music anyway.
Clarity: I feel the same. I've been following Rémi almost since he started, so I wasn't surprised at all by what I heard.
Did you feel that the structure of the songs was somewhat formulaic? For example, there might be a section containing some glitchy, IDM elements, underlain by more metal drumming, which then breaks down into a section containing purely electronics, and then builds itself back up again into an intense metal bit.
Meowzer: Frankly, that was my first thought on the album! I listened to the whole thing and thought "ok, everything is structured the same!" It sounds a bit different, but largely it starts out metal and then goes electronic.
Zyglrob: This is something which happens with electronic music anyway because people who listen to electronic music tend to want to dance to it, so it is a bit formulaic. However, I still think there is variety within the song structure on the album because if you listen to the first track, 'Handshake', and then you listen to the sixth track, 'Warp Gate Exploit', you'd find them to be pretty different. Tempo is very variable on the album: there are a lot of tempo changes which break it up quite well, yet I would agree that each song does begin with the electronic and metal mixed, then goes into something which is fully electronic, and then moves away from that to create a bit of a finale.
Klonere: It's funny that you mentioned those two tracks, they are the exact two tracks that I was going to mention as well because those two are quite different.
Clarity: I didn't get so much into the song structure, so I didn't figure out any patterns like you did.
The main marketing perspective taken with regards to The Algorithm is that he does djent combined with electronic music. Do you think that this is true, and if so does the combination work? Is it enjoyable to listen to?
Clarity: Well, I can see that it might have some problems being marketed like this because some people will dislike the electronic and some will dislike the metal. This is more evident live, because you see people who just don't know what to do to the music! They don't know whether to headbang or dance, so this could be a bit of a problem. On the other hand, he can fit into both scenes, because he can perform at electronic and metal gigs.
Meowzer: I think it works. He's signed to Basick Records, so he's obviously aiming at the progressive metal community, which is generally more open-minded about these somewhat arguably ridiculous mash-ups. Personally, I'm not into electronic music very much, but I still enjoyed it and I'm more of a prog fan. I'm more into A.I.(d), who takes the metal aspect to a greater extreme than the electronic one, but I definitely like The Algorithm's use of dubstep sounds and whatnot.
Klonere: It's interesting to mention A.I.(d), because he's a bit like the other side of the same coin. He's definitely a lot more on the metal side of this kind of approach to the electronic/metal combo.
Zyglrob: The combination The Algorithm has works really well, because his take on electronic music is very synoptic. He takes almost every form of popular electronic music and puts it all together with his djenty chugs over the top, and I think that makes it pretty accessible for metal fans because they don't have to know the UK underground drum'n'bass scene inside out to be able to appreciate all the nuances within the music. If they went and picked up a Deadmau5 album, for example, they'd hear quite a lot of similar sounds and beats to those that Rémi uses. So yes, it does work, because he doesn't make it too specialised. Even though his music is quite specialist, he manages to make it accessible for anyone who's even heard electronic music briefly, which is a good thing.
Clarity: his new music video for 'Trojans', which we premiered, has had over 30000 views in three days, so that says something about his popularity and whether his music works.
Klonere: Another interesting point is that, even though it is a huge synthesis of what is popular today in electronic music, and even some throwback stuff, it is still really interesting for someone who is into electronic music and who can pick out all the genre references to listen to, so he's sort of covered both of the bases there.
Zyglrob: yeah, definitely.
Music video for 'Trojans'.
What are everyone's favourite songs? Do you think this is an album wherein you can have a favourite song?
Meowzer: Personally, I can't pick a favourite song without having the tracklist in front of me. In spite of that, I really like 'Trojans' because it has the most metal on it and it was fun to listen to, and also 'Warp Gate Exploit', because I feel like I'm playing Star Fox 64 and I'm going through a warp and it's all calm and eerie.
Clarity: 'Warp Gate Exploit' was my favourite song as well. Even though it has the most electronics on the album, they are very well executed. 'Bouncing Dot' is also quite good, but I think that on the pre-production snippet that he posted, there were some cool ideas which didn't make it to the final version of the song.
Zyglrob: My favourite song is probably 'Access Granted', because it takes a couple of ideas from 'Access Denied' and includes them, like the saxophone sample at the beginning, and those little links back made me smile a bit. I also liked the way he managed to incorporate the huge slowdown from the breakbeat-y, breakcore sounding start to the song, and metamorphosed that into the down-tempo dubstep part with the syncopated 'skank' guitar, which had a very dubby feel.
This wasn't really something you'd expect, and it was one of the things about the album that did surprise me, how he managed to combine slow and gentle with fast and crazy. He obviously listens to boths sides of electronic music quite a lot to be able to do it, so I appreciated that. But also, songs like 'Bouncing Dot' have very catchy, high synth lines, similar to IDM and techno, with a solid dance beat underneath, which appealed to me as well.
I like the song structure of 'Warp Gate Exploit', because its very different from the others on the album. It starts off electronic, and then goes into a slower metal part, where the guitar isn't just playing one note chugs, but actually changes chords, which was a nice change. Having said that, I think that the whole album is good to listen to in one go, rather than songs at a time, because I like to listen to whole albums rather than single tracks most of the time.
Klonere: I'd say 'Warp Gate Exploit' is probably my favourite as well: it starts off electronic, then it goes into the metal bit, but when the metal bit ends you think that it's the end of the song, and then it becomes completely electronic, more so than any other part of the album. It goes into this future-garage-y, Burial-y, Swarms-y type outro, which is probably the darkest bit on the whole album. It's really grimey, and that's the type of electronic music I'm really into right now, so that caught me.
Another track I really like is the first on the album, 'Handshake', because I think it's the most metal track on the album. The intro is easily the most intense part of the album, and it gave me a false impression of what was coming up because it was so heavy. I like 'Panic!', even though it's maybe a bit too long, because of how much you can do with the sound on a longer song. In a sound that's primarily based around dynamics, having a longer song can open up more opportunities to be dynamic.
Zyglrob: I think that 'Handshake' is probably one of the more metal songs on the album. Along with 'Trojans', it's definitely the most crazy rhythmically. The way he breaks down the rhythmic structure shows how inventive his rhythmic side of the music is. He doesn't stick to a clear four-four beat as he does in the more House and Techno influenced parts of the album, it's a lot more free rhythmically and the percussive elements of the music are a lot more varied than on other tracks.
'Polymorphic Code' artwork.
Does the new production style live up to his live sound? Klonere and Clarity have both seen The Algorithm live; Meowzer and Zyglrob haven't.
Clarity: The production is now good enough to show off the density of the album, and gives a sound that's more similar to his live show.
Klonere: He's always had a better live sound. I've only seen him once, but it completely blew me away. The sound was so much more massive than what he achieved in his demos, and the music made a lot more sense. When I heard the demos, they were really sterile by comparison, and badly executed almost, but when I heard him live the energy was there.
Zyglrob: He's stepped it up on the album from the pre-production songs. Before, the songs sounded like they were trapped in a tin can; they were really trebly, and you couldn't feel the rhythmic aspects of his music very well, which isn't the case here. On this album, that's one of the things which keeps it moving and keeps it dynamic. It makes each of the different tempo changes and the blending of the different genres carry a lot more weight, which is good.
What are your general thoughts on the production, aside from his live sound? Is there anything you like in particular?
Zyglrob: Not really. He's managed to capture the different sounds of each of the different genres that he's included well. All of the high broken chords in the synth sound very electronic and well executed. The beats aren't the filthiest, but they give you the rhythmic sense as a whole very well, and that's fine. Aside from the blending of different genres with djent guitar on top, he doesn't really have a unique production sound, but the production is well executed, despite being quite standard.
Klonere: He executes each of the different production styles and electronic elements well, some even to the extent that he could focus solely on that aspect of the sound and release it as a stand-alone electronic album. The only thing I find, which is maybe on purpose to extenuate the fact that it's an electronic album for the most part, is that the drumbeats sound very blatantly programmed.
Zyglrob: I think that that's to add variety to his live sound. Because he has a live drummer in Mike Malyan (Monuments), he can afford to change it up a bit on the album and add a bit of authenticity to his live performance so that people can feel they've had a live experience, which I think is a good thing.
Klonere: I also think that the guitar tone is overly digital, but that's probably also to add to the electronic effect.
Meowzer: The production sounds pretty good. I don't listen to much electronic music so I don't really know what to compare it to, but even though this is only a 192 kbps copy that we have, it sounds pretty damn good!
Do you think that this album could be played with only live instruments at some stage?
Zyglrob: I'd love to see it, though I don't know how he could do it exactly because you'd need about 20 different people to produce the different layers of the music and make it sound as huge as it could sound. It would be pretty special.
Clarity: There were some plans to add a live guitarist to the project, which arose even before he got a live drummer, but they didn't work out and he started working with Mike instead. He still plans to do it, but I guess it will be quite hard!
Klonere: I think a guitarist could add to it from a live perspective, though it's not the most important thing.
How do you think this will be received by your regular djent fan, considering that djent appeals to quite a wide range of listeners, from prog to the -core genres and more?
Meowzer: That's a difficult question, because your run-of-the-mill djent fan is either you guys or the many artists that I talk to! Many of the people who have heard the word that I know either hate it, don't know it, or just happen to listen to some prog. Your everyday prog fan would probably dig it, but your everyday djent fan… I'm not sure if that's really a classification or not!
Klonere: As much as people decry djent, I think there's a lot of variety within the djent scene as to what people listen to and are looking for, so I agree that it is hard to judge how it will be received. I want to say that it will go down really well.
Zyglrob: If Metalhammer, who are some of the less 'extreme' metal music journalists, have had the balls to stream it on their website, then I don't see why not! However, I think that it probably has more potential within the electronic scene than within the djent scene, because, as we've been saying the whole review, the djent parts of the album aren't as pronounced as the electronic ones. That will inevitably lead to fans of electronic music getting into it, and maybe causing them to listen to more djent. But I'd agree with what Meowzer said: if you have an open mind, which you probably do if you listen to djent because it's quite obscure, then you'll be able to enjoy it.
Clarity: I expect people to keep an open mind and enjoy this album. With the 'Trojans' video, I saw lots of comments along the lines of 'I don't usually listen to electronic music but I like this', so I think it will go down well, despite people's preferences for either electronic or metal. It's quite a progressive album, and there are some good ideas on it, so maybe you don't even need to keep an open mind to enjoy it, I don't know.
Meowzer: When it comes to Basick Records, I like pretty much everybody they sign. They seem to have a pretty tight family of musicians and they choose their bands well. The main reason I wanted to review this record was that I thought, 'well, Basick have signed him so they must be grooming him for something pretty awesomely proggy and up my alley'. They took this crappy, demo-quality sound and turned it into something professional.
Zyglrob: I think that, with The Algorithm's versatility, most people would be able to groom him!
Klonere: It's going to be a really interesting challenge for Basick to market The Algorithm, but we can already see that his sound is widely appealing. He played at HMV's Next Big Thing, he's played electronic-only gigs and he DJ-ed at Euroblast festival. It will be interesting to see where he goes next, because I think he has the potential to go far beyond the djent scene.
The Algorithm's DJ set from Euroblast festival vol. 8.
How do you think the album stands in the grand scheme of things?
Zyglrob: I don't think it's an album that will be revered throughout djent as one of the albums that defines the genre, but it will be very widely appreciated within the small yet quite diverse community that djent is. I think it will start to permeate into other scenes and genres of music a lot more quickly than other djent artists have managed to do. It won't be like Periphery, where people suddenly caught on and then everyone was talking about them, but it will gain quite a bit of momentum, I'm pretty sure.
Meowzer: People will know his name, but I don't think the album will be on as many favourites list as some of the other names Zyglrob mentioned.
Clarity: It will stand out quite a bit because it's quite diverse, but then again it might be hard for some people to digest and appreciate properly.
Klonere: There's definitely the potential for it to go big outside of djent, but whether that happens or not I think is pure luck. Rémi is talented enough for it to happen, but money and luck will probably play a big role. For example, if BBC Radio One play it like they've been playing Hacktivist, then it could get big enough, but within the djent scene I don't think it will be able to hold the same weight as a new TesseracT or Periphery album. It will be appreciated and known within the community, but it won't be one of the albums that you have to listen to to fully know what djent is.
Meowzer: It's been proved that this type of mash-up works: take Enter Shikari, for example. However, I don't know if just the purely instrumental, electronic, no vocals sound that The Algorithm has is going to work for the same demographic as Shikari.
Klonere: I give the album a solid 8/10. its basic structure is pretty formulaic, but Rémi uses it well enough so that each song has its own identity. The basic idea behind the whole thing is really interesting to me, and I think he executes the electronic bits incredibly well considering the diversity of them.
Meowzer: 8/10. As much as I'm not a fan of electronic music, I still had a lot of fun listening to it. It's not a terribly memorable album, but at the same time when I'm looking to entertain myself during a casual round of SuperSmash Brothers, this will definitely be something I put on. The production quality is excellent, and the evolution from previous works of his is pretty apparent.
Clarity: I give it a 9/10. I enjoyed it very much, and I was surprised that I enjoyed the electronic parts more than the metal parts.
Zyglrob: I give it an 8/10 as well. I feel that, while people were defining him to be 'djent and electronic' on previous works, you can't say them to be separate on this album. He has combined them to form an overall electronic sound with guitar laid on top to provide some extra kick which gives him an edge over other electronic artists.
The Algorithm will be playing an album release show on November 28th at The Black Heart in Camden Town, London, UK, with Hacktivist and Collisions (18+). Capacity is limited. All attendees will receive a free signed copy of the album, along with a limited edition poster. Tickets are available from the Basick Records store, RSVP to the Facebook event here. A couple of other shows around the UK have also been announced.
Thanks to the reviewers, and in particular to Daniel O' Connor for taking the lead. Thanks also to James Monteith and everyone at Basick Records.
If you can't get enough of The Algorithm, also check out the interview we conducted with Rémi in February 2011.
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