John Browne’s Flux Conduct
19th October 205 – Self-released
01: Perturb (overture)
Naqoyqatsi: Life as War
02: The Shroud
04: The Heart Of Atlantis
Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance
08: We are Creating at this Moment, what our Tomorrow will be
Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation
10: Actions speak louder than words
13: The Last Goodbye
14: The Scientific Sophism
One of the perverse realities of musicians attempting to transform their passion into a bona fide career is that, once they reach a certain point, they don’t have much time to actually write music any more. Since the 2014 release of The Amenuensis, Monuments have spent more time than not crammed into vans or waiting at airports, taking their incendiary live show around the world. As the cycle began to wind down and gaps started to appear between tour commitments, it’s hardly then surprising that the band’s driving creative force, guitarist John Browne, felt compelled to use his instrument for something other than playing “Regenerate” for the 300th time. The results of this outpouring of suppressed creativity form Qatsi, the first release under Browne’s Flux Conduct banner.
Probably the first thing to strike the listener on sitting down with a copy of Qatsi is just how much there is to take in. The album contains comfortably over an hour of instrumental tracks, densely packed with the frantic, progressive metal riffing on which Browne has built his reputation. There has been a small but persistently noisy faction of the Monuments fanbase which has been making clear that they’d really have preferred the band to have remained instrumental ever since Neema and Greg left the ranks some years ago. Monuments – quite rightly – ignored them, but Qatsi finally gives these fans what they wanted; wall-to-wall Browne riffs, unfettered with vocals, save for the occasional choral accompaniment.
However, even though not a single word is sung, spoken or bellowed on Qatsi, there is still an underlying concept driving the project and tying it all together. The word ‘qatsi’ itself is the Hopi word for ‘life’, and the disc is broken down into three sections (or movements) using the same naming convention as Godfrey Reggio’s excellent and profound movie trilogy: Naqoyqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi; respectively, Life as War, Life out of balance and Life in Transformation. Deep stuff.
The basic concept of Qatsi revolves around a series of stories told to the central character (presumably Browne himself) by avatars representing situations past, present and future. Some are messages of solace and hope, others are warnings and portents of doom. Mankind’s relationship with technology and consumerism are key themes throughout, as are the consequences of one’s actions. Some more on these concepts can be found in an interview with Browne over on Blackbirdmusicblog for now.
It doesn’t require a psychology degree to realise that Qatsi is largely a catharsis for Browne. The writing and recording has clearly involved the exorcising of some demons, and the processing of recent life events. Even it has been done non-verbally, it is clear that a significant amount of anger, frustration and soul searching has largely been channelled through his right hand, resulting in a brace of aggressively choppy riffs.
In order to fill out the sound in the absence of vocals, Browne has instead indulged his passion for film soundtrack composers like Hans Zimmer. Throughout Qatsi, but especially evident on prelude track “Perturb” and “Yin“, the riffs are complemented by rich orchestral swells and dramatic piano lines, which give the album a more bombastic, almost apocalyptic, feel. “The Last Goodbye” also features one of the most furious riffs that Browne has wrought from his fretboard to date.
Obviously, one positive side-effect of spending so much time on the road is the opportunity to connect with other touring musicians. These connections are the likely cause of the appearance of two exceptionally talented guitarists – Chris Letchford of Scale The Summit and Jakub Zytecki of DispersE – popping up to supply guest solos on Qatsi of practically inevitable high quality.
It’s probably unsurprising that the main sonic touchstone for Qatsi is still Monuments. All of the hallmarks of Browne’s writing style that have propelled Monuments to the fore of the tech/djent scene that has coalesced around the twin festivals of Tech Fest and Euroblast are still plainly evident here, and its sure to be among the attendees of those festivals that Qatsi‘s biggest fans will be found.
It’s also clear that Qatsi is a far more personal album than anything Browne has done before, but, with so much to get off his chest, and it all being so tightly packed together, listening to the whole thing in one sitting quickly becomes something of an endurance test. For those wanting to learn Browne’s techniques, or those who perennially find themselves thinking that the vocals just get in the way of their enjoyment of a riff, Qatsi is a godsend. For others, it is perhaps best enjoyed by breaking it down into its three constituent sub-sections, transforming it into a series of more manageable, EP-sized chunks.
There’s barely a weak track on Qatsi, but in that respect it’s almost a victim of its own success. Like a tray of cream cakes, eating one or two is delicious, but attempting to devour the whole lot in one go may be too much for some people – but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t work your way through them over multiple visits.
Simultaneously a deeper insight into the workings of Browne’s mind and something to help tide fans over until the third Monuments album becomes a reality, Qatsi can rightly be seen as a success. The sheer weight of good ideas on offer here confirm Browne’s place in the vanguard of British progressive metal talents today.
Qatsi can be purchased via the Flux Conduct Big Cartel page.