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Well, here's an unexpected one - a new project featuring none other than onetime Machine Head and Soulfly guitarist Logan Mader. A blast from the past... kind of. He's not, of course, been absent from the scene in any small way; rather, he's simply opted to ply his trade as something of a prolific producer since the turn of the century. It brings to mind renowned producer Andy Sneap's studio breaks for Sabbat's ephemeral-ish reunion, before getting a taste good and proper as a recorded and performing musician to embark on a more permanent return in Sabbat's original inspiration, Hell. And now, Mader's back in full-on musician mode. Here we have the results of his return in the form of 'The Life I Remember' by the newly created band Once Human. I guess once you've taken centre-stage, that irrepressible musical urge must be inherent in your character... and Mader's eventually succumbed.

This is, though, not all about Mader himself. Rather, ex-Roadrunner boss, Monte Conner, tipped off the producer about Lauren Hart, an American multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, who he'd discovered through her guitar-based video demos. Conner sent Hart over to Mader for a production deal, whereby both discovered they connected creatively through an innate and invigorating chemistry; thus, Once Human was born. Mader took on all guitar work, Hart assumed vocal duties, then Damian Rainauld and Ralph Alexander were duly recruited for bass and drums respectively (the former, a studio engineer who's previously worked with Mader). The collective efforts of all four have resulted in an atmospherically loaded, epic slab of mood-driven metal that's as hard-hitting in its intensities as it is contemplative in its moments of melancholic mellowness.

Opening with a short, orchestrally cinematic intro, 'Trail of Tears', the first minute or so of the album's following track, 'Ground Zero' reverts back to the start of the intro, which then plays out, once again, in its entirety. Hmmm... I'm inclined to believe there's been a glitch in the 'final' recordings sent to the label to be used for promo purposes. I sincerely hope that's the case; otherwise, it's a piece of unwanted, quirky repetition that serves only to annoy. A big, epic build-up for a minute and twenty seconds, then... the exact same build-up again! Either way, looking beyond the glitch/quirkiness, what follows is a breathtaking exercise in perfectly paced, quasi-diverse, gutsy metal immediacy with a series of flawlessly executed, musically exhilarating compositions that, quite simply, demand your attention through their enlivened impetus.

Hart's rasped and growled vocals are incredible, with a discernible dose of black metal bite. It's apt for the varying atmospheres conveyed through the music which, while not black metal per se, are partially born from melodic/dissonant contrasts in each song; something that's always been associated with said genre. Likewise, some menacing and cinematically inspired keyboards, when combined with the other instruments, add a further atmospherically blackened and melancholic dimension. However, it's not all black metal induced, sonic misanthropy here (despite some of the lyrical content). Once Human's palette is a much more diverse one. Some thrash-based, groove-flavoured riffage and a sporadicity of fretboard shred, not to mention a monstrously dynamic performance behind the kit by Alexander that actually accentuates many of the moods, rather than simply providing a rhythmic backbone to the songs, transcends mere black metal pastiche.

Mader's guitar work is also wonderful and wonderfully intelligent throughout. Beyond the aforementioned riffage, which is incisive in execution, yet organic through composition, his lead work is amazing. Whether he's soloing his arse off, or adding layers of innovative, more laid-back leads, either subtly or emphatically, it's always well thought out within songs' contexts in terms of adding to the music's overall affect. The atmosphere created through his guitar over the intro of the album's title track (a repeated motif during the verse), is simply stunning. Then there's Hart's clean voice, which is expressive enough to add yet another dimension to Once Human's sound, contrasting well with the rasped, blackened growls. It's almost where malevolence meets benevolence. And her layered, clean voice during a couple of acoustic guitar breaks in 'Time of the Disease' is as sublime as it gets.

There's so much to recommend 'The Life I Remember' for; it's a rather astounding debut album from what will hopefully transpire to be a fully-fledged, working band, rather than one-off studio project. It seems the former might just prove true as they've already announced a series of live shows, stateside, supporting Fear Factory. Oh, and the album gets stronger and stronger as it progresses, with not one ounce of filler. And I needn't mention the production - with Mader at the helm, it matches the high standard for which he's become renowned - but, just to say, the album sounds incredible too; it's where technical precision and organic qualities combine to help accentuate and articulate all manner of profound emotional depths already inherent within the compositions. A welcome return from Mader and a gem of a find in Hart, this is a powerhouse pairing (alongside Rainauld and Alexander) that's spawned the majestically compelling 'The Life I Remember'. Amazing stuff.
Review by Mark Holmes
4th Sept 2015
1) Trail of Tears; 2) Ground Zero
3) You Cunt
4) Pick Your Poison
5) Terminal
6) Demoneyes
7) Devil Can Have You
8) Time of the Disease
9) I Am War
10) The Life I Remember
11) Siren
12) Growing Colder
"...an atmospherically loaded, epic slab of mood-driven metal that's as hard-hitting in its intensities as it is contemplative in its moments of melancholic mellowness."