Fractal Universe's sophomore full-length hits as hard intellectually as it does sonically, affirming the French quartet's place on the progressive death metal map. "'Rhizomes of Insanity' is a concept album based on a thought experiment around the concept of insanity," asserts vocalist/guitarist Vince Wilquin. "It questions the origins of it, and tries to define where we set its boundaries with 'reason'. It eventually questions its place in our modern society and surmises that it has turned into an intrinsic, unavoidable but also necessary part of it and of every human being, which we're trying to repress at all costs." From start to finish, the album is an immersive, complex yet wholly accessible collection rich in melody, invention, and packed with decimating riffs - wielding ten tracks, all of which hit their mark.
Having established themselves with 2015's Boundaries of Reality EP and 2017's acclaimed Engram of Decline full-length, appearances at Hellfest, MetalDays and France's mainstream FIMU festival followed, growing the band's profile. Commencing writing for Rhizomes Of Insanity before they had even finished working on their debut, the band spent a year honing it prior to tracking, at no stage feeling the common pressures that come with second albums. "Actually this album almost felt like it was writing itself, with a lot of fresh ideas emerging," says Wilquin. "And since about a half of it was written even before 'Engram of Decline' was released, we couldn't really be influenced by the critiques and feedback it got." Compared to its predecessor, it is both more diverse and direct, redefining expectations of the band's limits. "It also goes more into the emotional musical aspect that we developed on 'Engram of Decline'," says drummer Clément Denys. "It's still a progressive album but in a less demonstrative manner. Overall, it is bouncier and catchier than our previous effort." Motivated to match the musical evolution demonstrated across the record, Wilquin also pushed himself vocally, his titanic roar counterpointed by the breathy uttering of "Rising Oblivion" and the restrained hissing of "Parabola of Silence", and his clean, melodic range is stronger than ever, making for some gigantic choruses.
For those unaware, in philosophy, a "rhizome" is a highly complex, permanently evolving structure, where everything can have an influence on everything else and there is no given hierarchy. In Fractal Universe's hands, it suggests the highly intricate and complex nature of insanity, which the album aims to grab onto. "I think the nature of our perception of reality and the fine line between reason and insanity are some things all of us have wondered about at some point, and are some of mankind's existential questions," says Wilquin of the album's inspiration. The overall concept of the record is laid out in opening track "Oneiric Realisations", which finds its root in a quote drawn from the works of Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou: "Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. In this song, the character begins to question the very nature of reality," says Wilquin. "This is not madness yet, but the birth of an irreducible doubt that will eventually lead to it. Then you have a song like 'A Reality to Foreclose', which describes the tipping point into madness, from the subjective point of view of a collapsing world, but suggests that there is also something deeply farseeing and enlightening in it. 'Fundamental Dividing Principle' describes how humans reject insanity as if it were a foreign body, to avoid contamination. But by building this wall, they cut away a very part of themselves and what makes them human. Thus, in our modern society, 'We are the cynical heirs of a fundamental dividing principle'."
Drums for the record were lain down at Ghost City Recordings, in Röttenbach, Germany with Nikita Kamprad, while guitars, bass and vocals were recorded in the members' respective home studios, and like its predecessor, it was mixed and mastered by Flavien Morel, who intimately understands what Fractal Universe are all about. Seven days of drum tracking allowed a lot of time to really focus on getting the best sounds from the instrument and, given the immense amount of preparation and pre-production involved in the process, everything else was captured easily, with all of the experimentation behind them and the sessions lacking in drama. Guitarist Hugo Florimond's father Jean-Marc contributed some saxophone parts, providing some layers and a solo on "Fundamental Dividing Principle", further expanding the scope of the record. "I really like how the production turned out. We managed to keep the sound very organic, natural and warm sounding, and it accurately reflects all the subtleties and dynamics of the compositions," says Wilquin.
With a headline French tour scheduled for April followed by a European run later in the year, plus the intent to play as many festivals as possible this summer, metal fans can expect to hear a lot more from Fractal Universe in 2019 and beyond. "Since the beginning of the band, we've always given ourselves a 100% to offer our fans the best possible music and memorable live performances. With 'Rhizomes of Insanity' and our forthcoming collaboration with Metal Blade Records, I believe we now have the perfect cards in hand to bring Fractal Universe to the next level."