The fifth album from Denmark's industrial metal kings is a rebuilding album, but its impact is still uncertain.
If there is one thing that I've learned about Mnemic, it's that I usually take a few listens to truly appreciate every song in the way it's meant to be heard. I learned this the hard way after 2010's Sons of the System, which I initially only rated a 7 out of 10. Two years later, I've listened to that album from start to finish more than any other album during that time period, because it takes a few listens to discover all the hidden nuances that album contains, and many more listens to get tired of them. Sons of the System was the magnum opus of a band finally able to deliver everything they were capable of doing on one record. However, the group lost a lot of momentum and members in 2011, and many wondered if they could survive to make a fifth record. Doubt not the tenacity of founding guitarist Mircea Gabriel Eftemie, though. He and vocalist Guillaume Bideau, the only members left from the group that recorded Sons of the System, assembled a new group of musicians to become the newest incarnation of Mnemic, which led to the writing and recording of Mnemesis.
Keeping with the theme of Mnemic's entire discography, opinions on Mnemesis are likely to be divided. However, unlike the group's previous two records, this won't be simply a debate of "old Mnemic vs. new Mnemic" and which style is better. Rather, Mnemesis will leave fans questioning whether this album represents the natural evolution of their sound or if it is a shift to an altogether different style. To say that this is a natural evolution is a valid viewpoint, since Mnemesis thrives on the same elements found in abundance on Sons of the System. There is plenty of groove, syncopation, and polyrhythmic composition to satisfy those that love Mnemic's technical side. The other side of the spectrum is well-represented, too - Bideau's vocals have never been more operatic and attention-grabbing before. The vocal melodies are even catchier than before, showing a lot of influence from Devin Townsend, and the lyrical passages about physics, evolution, space, and the human mind will be just as intriguing as those that have come before. Overall, on the surface, this album appears to follow the course that had been chartered by Sons of the System in perfect form.
However, there are certainly enough changes on this album to lend merit to the argument that the band is altering their style entirely. The most noticeable change is the use of 7-string guitars over the 8-string guitars that were formerly a mainstay in the band's repertoire, making the whole album sound lighter and less aggressive. There are still a good number of songs that will get listeners banging their heads, like "Valves", "Junkies on the Storm", "Ocean of Void", and the title track. But much of the rest of the album seems motivated solely by Bideau's soaring vocals and clean, straightforward riffs. While on the subject of Bideau, it's also worth mentioning that he screams much less on this album than on Sons of the System. Rather than the even split of singing and screaming that we got on that album, instead we get about 75% singing and only 25% screaming on Mnemesis. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as Bideau's clean vocals are quite excellent in their own right. Still, it lends credence to the opinion that a complete style change has occurred.
After several listens to the album, I am still undecided as to which opinion I hold. I suspect that I will need to hear what their next album sounds like before deciding whether this album represents stylistic evolution or a full-blown sound change. I will say, though, that Mnemesis is a worthwhile listen for every Mnemic fan, simply because each fan needs to decide for themselves where they stand in this debate. I enjoyed this album a great deal, and while I don't think it will quite measure up to Sons of the System over time, I still find it to be a very good listen with several standout tracks. I can only hope that others are able to find the same level of enjoyment in this album that I did, without the nagging distraction of what this album means for the future of Mnemic.