Benoit Mandelbrot died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14th, 2010, at the age of 85.
Mandelbrot, a French mathematician, is well-known for his mathematical development of seemingly simple, repeating patterns known as fractals. A fractal is a mathematical set of numbers graphically represented by a boundary that repeats under any magnification and, therefore, does not simplify.
Technical details aside, the fractal has become an iconic image for its aesthetic appeal. The famous graph is depicted in the complex plane and the boundary of the set infinitely repeats under any magnification.
Initially a mathematical curiosity, Mandelbrot almost immediately discerned that the set can be used to describe complex structures in nature such as mountain peaks, the structure of trees, coastlines, etc; a realm of nature that was once thought to lie outside the orderly forms of mathematics prior to Mandelbrot’s discovery. Needless to say, the Mandelbrot set led to a whole new branch of mathematical study of nature, and the physics and engineering applications are becoming boundless. I highly recommend NOVA: Hunting the Hidden Dimension for a detailed, qualitative look at the fractal, a term coined by Mandelbrot. You can see the entire episode here.
Fractals are periodically mentioned in metal. Here are two references that I find appealing, and which also provide me an excuse to review the new album from recently reformed technical, progressive death metal wizards Atheist. Fractals are mentioned by Atheist as a blip of an instrumental (that does not simplify), “Fractal Point,” on their classic third full-length album, Elements.
Elements depicts Atheist as they broke up as a band that had largely moved away from their quasi-death metal roots and firmly embracing their fascination with jazz and progressive rock music. As everyone knows by now, Atheist vocalist/ guitarist/ mastermind Kelly Schaeffer has decided to give it another go and reform Atheist with an entirely new lineup consisting of himself and most of the members of Atlanta-based technical death/ thrash outfit Gnostic (Correction: Drummer Steve Flynn also played in Atheist from 1988-91).
Free flowing, jazz-oriented technical death metal has undergone a resurgence of late, for better or worse, with some really good albums being released (A Great Work of Ages by StarGazer), and some that will only appeal to a very niche audience (Traced in Air by Cynic). In short, Atheist have some ground to make up with Jupiter, the new album released on Season of Mist Records.
Immediately, Jupiter is considerably more metallic than where Atheist left off with Elements, and frenetically toes the line between death and thrash metal. Jupiter is filled with technically oriented fast riffs, stellar drumming with lots of free flowing forms and out and out blasts interspersed throughout, a dynamic bass that is not nearly given as much chance to shine in the mix as it should, and Schaeffer’s nasally inflected vocal delivery.
The songwriting is quite good, and even handed. Schaeffer and company revel in their myriad of influences with moments of progressive jazz, stellar musicianship; and so on, yet still remain firmly rooted in metal with an album that seems to blow by all too quickly at a relatively short 33 minutes. Backing it all up is top notch, modern production, but I would have preferred a more prominent bass, as mentioned. Even the cover art with mythological and astronomical references is fantastic.
In short, Jupiter is a great return to form for Kelly Schaeffer and the new incarnation of Atheist. Undoubtedly, many will spend hours arguing whether Jupiter or A Great Work of Ages is the progressive death metal album of the year.
Atheist Official MySpace
Special mention of a fractal reference should be made for “Nuage Fractal” from the criminally underrated Voivod album Angel Rat. Although much derided, I find this album to be an absolute classic and the best of Voivod’s experimental, progressively oriented mid-period albums. This album is much better than the overrated Nothingface. Enjoy.
October Falls A Collapse of Faith
Intronaut Valley of Smoke
Hell Militia Last Station on the Road to Death