Dan Terminus – Automated Refrains

Blood Music, 2017

The best albums, in my opinion, cater to no particular style. They may include elements of pre-established templates, but push the envelope towards something unique. It’s not easy. While I’m a fan of genre as much as anyone, I find myself drawn to artists and albums that combine and innovate.

Dan Terminus is one of these. If you listen to his earlier releases, such as The Darkest Benthic Division and Stratospheric Cannon Symphony, you’d encounter some intriguing compositions that pull from multiple sources but seem comfortable with allowing themselves to be defined thusly. With The Wrath of Code, however, Dan Terminus found himself in altogether uncharted territory, in places even his French contemporary Perturbator seemed reluctant to go. The Wrath of Code is a hypersonic cruise missile of rhythm and energy, coursing through dizzying heights of sequence and percussion, all with a powerful cinematic bent.

That was just the beginning. Automated Refrains is the next release from Dan Terminus, and when considering his discography as a whole, everything he’d done previously was leading to this. An exhilarating combination of post-industrial grit, retrowave sci-fi, and cinematic ambient, Automated Refrains is a dense and captivating beast. “Fall of the Ancient World” has the epic scope of soundtracks, with stirring solemn keyboards punctuated by the buried intricate percussion that has marked Dan Terminus’ work since the beginning. While these elements would be enough on their own, a South American-style flute soon enters the fray, its soothing notes adding a dimension that pushes the composition over the top, especially when these melodies are echoed by chip-tune synths which soon morph into EBM sequences and ambient synth washes. Dan Terminus has announced his evolution with flair.

“Fall of the Ancient World” is merely the launch pad for the armada that is Automated Refrains. “Margaritifer” charges along a cyberpunk labyrinth with reckless abandon; this is the closest Dan Terminus allows himself to come to the controlled freneticism of Perturbator, but Dan Terminus has always shown restraint in the name of experimentation. “Angelus” is nothing less than anthemic bliss, its slow paced thudding drums flanked by post-industrial bass-lines and arrogant keyboards, but tempered by melodic and looped structures that show that Dan Terminus is at home in his virtual sonic playground.

We then encounter the album’s heart, the eight-minute hymn “Grimoire Blanc.” This is Dan Terminus at the height of his inventive powers, a masterpiece of unexpected shifts and detail, of bombastic drums and power-laden synths, of electro-tinged harpsichord and voice samples, of quiet interludes and swelling arches of programming. It’s a track so packed with twists and detail, it seems twice as long as it is, and upon repeat listens, the amount of content stuns, all without upsetting the atmosphere. Simply put, this is arguably one of the greatest tracks in this style, bar none.

Of course, it’s expected to have a bit of a comedown from such heights. “Friendship Through Clear Plastic Walls” is slower of pace but stronger in feel, until the twin-barrel blasts of “Vesubian” and “Deus Mecanicus” herald the shock-grenade stunner “Electronic Snow”, which features Dan Terminus’ most innovative drum programming alongside the plucked-bass synth that defined “The Chasm,” one of the best tracks from The Wrath of Code. “Refuge” and “Dirge of the Ancient Machines” bring Automated Refrains to the most satisfying of closes, promising to return the listener to its alternate-dimension state of mind soon enough.

Automated Refrains is kaleidoscopic in scope and scintillating in execution; Luca Carey’s dizzying Lovecraft-on-LSD artwork is the perfect visual complement. From its quietly punching drumwork – a fine-tuned fusion of snare, bass, and hi-hat that clicks, thuds, hisses, and snaps with alien momentum – to its strange otherworldly aesthetic and controlled cyborg imprinting, the album marks quite a conundrum for Dan Terminus, who’s been on a gradual rise since he arrived on the scene: what the heck is he going to do next? I was suspicious at the notion that he could top The Wrath of Code, and he pulled that off with shocking ease. I think I’ve learned my lesson.