Since forming in Attica, Greece in 2002 Cerebrum has proven to be one of the more resilient and interesting technical death metal bands to come from the Hellenic underground. That isn’t to say that things have been particularly easy for them. Their on-and-off collaboration with high-profile (session) drummer George Kollias has been as much of a boon as it has been a bane. Thus far they have released three albums, one and all stellar examples within their specific niche, on as many different label imprints. “Spectral Extravagance” was released through Czech Republic’s Lacerated Enemy Records in 2009 with “Cosmic Enigma” following in 2013 on Japanese imprint Amputated Vein Records. “Iridium”, their third and most recent offering, is distributed and marketed through Transcending Obscurity Records based out of Mumbai, India. In an ideal world “Iridium” (stylized as "IrIdIum") is Cerebrum’s overdue passage to the big leagues.
As the opposite of the more stereotypically American sounding Inveracity (whose bass guitarist now resides in his constellation) Cerebrum has by and far probably been the most interesting Greek death metal band this side of Sickening Horror. Jim Touras (vocals, guitars) and his men have always prided themselves on being of a progressive and forward-thinking disposition. Like the two records before it “Iridium” combines the typical rugged Greek death metal with technical workouts redolent of Atheist (“Piece Of Time” and “Unquestionable Presence”) and mid-to-late period Death (“Human” and “Individual Thought Patterns”) with the density and percussiveness of early Suffocation (“Effigy Of the Forgotten”, “Breeding the Spawn”). There has always been a slight undercurrent of thrash to many of the riffs and chord progressions that Cerebrum uses but it underscores that these men grew up on all the right records and thankfully keep their music free from any contemporary influences. Touras and Michalis Papadopoulos (guitar) remain from “Spectral Extravagance” and “Cosmic Enigma”. George Skalkos (bass guitar) debuted on “Cosmic Enigma” and “Iridium” inducts Defkalion Dimos (drums) into the fold.
Whereas a band as Sickening Horror has drifted towards a direction that is as much symfo as it is industrial while retaining their death metal essence; Cerebrum hasn’t shed its skin quite as drastically as the former has. In the years since “Cosmic Enigma” Cerebrum has forsaken the more conventional and rigid structures for something that is altogether more adventurous and wilder in terms of rhythms. “Iridium” is stylistically closer to “Nespithe” from Demilich and “Spheres” from Pestilence (minus the guitar-synths and studio effects) than it is to more brutish and pugilistic examples of the form as “The Hidden Lore” from Iniquity or ambitious cerebral exercises as “The Armageddon Theories” from Theory In Practice. No, the Chuck Schuldiner styled solos stay very much intact but “Iridium” has a far greater propensity towards a near-constant, sputtering start-stop sections and bouncing, almost elastic rhythms. In that sense it bears more of a resemblance to Fear Factory’s “Soul Of A New Machine” strictly in how it operates on a rhythmic level. Cerebrum's newfound penchant for the mechanical works wonderfully well.
That doesn’t mean that Cerebrum hasn’t retained at least a fraction of what made their previous two records what they were. The soloing is very much what it always has been and ‘A Face Unknown’ even throws in an acoustic Greek guitar solo which is something that just begs further exploration. The bass licks are uniformly funky and will very much appeal to Obscura and Monstrosity fans as such. The drumming is no longer as flashy and extravagant as it once was now that Kollias has bade his farewell. ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ is the prerequisite instrumental but it, thankfully, is better composed than the two barely developed brainfarts on “Cosmic Enigma”. Although brief as always it’s closer to ‘The Prologue of Completion’ from “Spectral Extravagance” than anything after. ‘Absorbed in Greed’ and ‘Escape to Bliss’ are by far our favorite tracks of the album as a whole. “Iridium” is by far the most cohesive effort these men have yet penned. The instrumentals still add no extra dimension in the way the band probably intended but at least now they are (once again) just a single diversion towards the end. ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ is little over a minute long and could just as easily been integrated into ‘Astral Oblivion’. Unlike “Spectral Extravagance” and “Cosmic Enigma” before it this is more of a slow burn with not much in the way of hooks. “Iridium” is a record meant to be experienced as a whole, and not as a few scattered tracks here and there.
Those hoping to see an Adam Burke, César Eidrian, George Prasinis, Piotr Szafraniec, or Dan Seagrave canvas on “Iridium” will have to settle for a rather standard-looking (and, frankly, uninteresting) Costin Chioreanu drawing. Since working with the likes of Demonical, Grave, Mayhem, Primordial, and Sigh and (in a later stage) with Arch Enemy, At the Gates, and Einherjer; Chioreanu has become the new go-to artist for bands either in the metal mainstream or ones attempting to break into it. A couple of years ago Costin Chioreanu was what Eliran Kantor has become in more recent times. The “Iridium” artwork is by no means disappointing but from Cerebrum one has come to expect something different, something innovative even. They commissioned artwork from Michał "Xaay" Loranc before the big fish took notice of him. The crunchy guitar tone from the previous two albums is sorely absent. In its stead is a thin, buzzy fuzz straight out of a mid-to-late ‘90s demo cassette. Not something you’d expect from a respected professional label with international distribution. Granted, it leaves plenty of place for the funky bass guitar licks and the frequent solos but far more damning is that it lacks the weight, heft and body it possessed on “Spectral Extravagance” and “Cosmic Enigma”. “Iridium” would’ve sounded far more threatening with a properly dialed-in or a more refined, full-bodied guitar tone. That the record was mastered by Colin Marston at his The Thousand Caves facility in Queens, New York will probably account for something to some people, but it’s not something we particularly care for. It doesn’t fix the fantastically impotent guitar tone, for one.
We like to sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that our old Nile review for that certain South Asian publication (hi, Kunal!) was at least a contributing factor in helping the men in Cerebrum score a recording contract with its current label home. However we’re realistic enough to realize that such acknowledgements will probably not be forthcoming and expecting them on our part is entirely futile, to put it mildly. For one thing it’s good to see that talented bands in the underground are still given opportunities to break to a wider audience. A band like Cerebrum is a welcome breath of fresh air in the neverending morass of mediocrity that the majors keep forcing upon the masses who still consume it without question. There’s a point to be made that the metal scene is responsible for the self-perpetuating stream of easily marketable dross that clogs up playlists and mailorders. Thankfully label imprints as Transcending Obscurity Records continue to support and develop talent in what must be a nearly extinct tradition. If there’s any justice in the world either Cerebrum further develops under the wings of Transcending Obscurity or use it as steppingstone into the upper echelon of the genre. Either way, despite a productional hiccup, “Iridium” is their most accomplished record so far.