Form In Motion by Autarkh
review by Swatty
When Dodecahedron disbanded in the global humanity stomp that was 2020, fans were collectively gutted. Their last album, Kwintessens, was quite the treatise on how to create dissonant, hellish atmospheric black metal. However, a collective sigh of relief was uttered by all when mastermind Michel Nienhuis announced he would be taking the broken remains of his former act and refashioning them into some mysterious form called Autarkh. Aside from the name, no one knew what was in store for listeners until this year. Regardless, I don’t think anyone expected this.
Instead of the usual technical and dissonant black metal backdrop to some philosophical esoterica, we are presented with a hybridized bastard born of cosmic technology and infernal spirit on the new group’s debut, Form In Motion. In practical terms, this means completely atonal counterpoint between down-tuned guitars, thick and jittery bass, waves of synthesizers performed by a T-1000, and most shockingly of all, synthetic beats in place of drums. This may send a lot of organic black metal purists running to the hills but trust me, this synergy is most copacetic.
Initial listens are jarring to say the least; there are so many layers packed over one another that this beast is denser than the center of a black hole. The moments of consonance are few and far between and behave more like brief illusions of an oasis in a lifeless silicon desert of transistors and hexadecimals. The actual riffing is the lone reminder that this was indeed once Dodecahedron. The melodies are fiercely atonal and, aside from the alien choruses that pervade most of the tracks here, any harmony honestly feels more accidental than intentional. It’s chaos exploding in white light but managed with a precision that doesn’t become readily apparent until maybe the second or third session.
What may be even more surprising to fans of Dodecahedron is the shift in vocal style. Nienhuis is chameleonic here and transforms himself from a menacing incubus to a heavily cadenced nu-metal style (e.g. Corey Taylor) to a singing scream not so unlike what you would hear in Gojira or maybe even in Darkane—and this occurs with regularity throughout the life of a single song. This may be a point of contention with a lot of listeners who just want a more predictable style that they already experienced with the previous incarnation (even though that was a different vocalist, Michiel Eikenaar, who tragically died of cancer in 2019). However, this very fluid and intense style befits the compositions perfectly and adds an unhinged sense of unease and panic. Additionally, the weight of his and David Luiten’s guitar tone is massive; each polyrhythmic chromatic “melody” they play (combined with the lunacy of Nienhuis’ vocals) careen each composition gleefully over the edge and into the event horizon.
Potentially the most polarizing elements of Autarkh’s sound, however, are the synthesizers and synthetic beat design. The two empyreal wizards responsible for this futuristic madness are Tijnn Verbruggen and Joris Bonis. Together they have woven a sonic tapestry of distorted machine language and soulless dissonant atmosphere whose sole purpose is to transform organic life into automatons that only serve the terrifying code at play. It is such a strong element in this industrialized ecosystem and thankfully, it gets a chance to shine on its own via the four instrumentals. Opener “Primitive Constructs” eases its way out of the gates with a distorted Troum-esque drone that intensifies until it heralds the arrival of the album proper. “Impasse” is reminiscent of a lost JK Flesh track, with a driving beat that sounds like a factory processing organic matter into pieces of a vessel that traverses the cosmos, while “Metacognition” is another piece that lives up to its namesake with a deceptively peaceful drone. Finally, closer “Zeit Ist Nur Eine Illusion” (“Time Is Just An Illusion”) is the sound of impossibly-shaped treaded vehicles rolling over the desiccated bones of a race of beings that once inhabited the planet that Autarkh just forcibly stole from them. All four of these tracks act as both interludes and perfect microcosms for the pervading theme of the album.
The actual “songs” here are an unholy synthesis of everything described above. This is not memorable music, at least not in the orthodox sense. You are not going to wake up and start humming the opening chromatic line from “Cyclic Terror” while you’re taking a shower and planning the rest of your day in your head. Form In Motion is not meant to be experienced in that way; rather, it is an entire organism that needs to attach to you symbiotically until all the songs have been spent. Once the disorientation wears off, you think about the little moments of clarity you had while suffocating in the aural blur, and it is that gained insight which keeps you going back for more.
As a closing thought, I have seen many reviewers and fans crap all over this album because “it’s not Dodecahedron”. Nienhuis has made it clear that that band is dead, so he owes nothing to anyone. If anything, Autarkh is the moth that emerged from the cocoon that Dodecahedron transformed itself in. While you can still certainly use his former vehicle of expression as a starting point when approaching this album, if you use it as gauge for its quality you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, erase any preconceived notion of what you may expect from this wonderfully mad opus and give yourself fully over to it. Tune your internal radio to these frequencies emitting from the void and, as the line goes in the equally polarizing movie Event Horizon (the hell dimension of which Form In Motion could be a soundtrack to):
Libera tu temet ex inferis.