A strange loop is a phenomenon that occurs when ascending or descending something in hierarchical order and coming back to the start; as such, there is no well-defined starting or ending point. There are plenty of strange loops we’re all familiar with- the “chicken or the egg” paradox, the Ouroboros, much of M.C. Escher’s work, the movie Groundhog’s Day. It’s a simple concept, but one that has a vast impact in the worlds of mathematics and philosophy, particularly pertaining to the concept of “self.” I highly recommend checking out Douglas Hofstadter’s books Gödel, Escher, Bach or I Am a Strange Loop (or at least reading over the Wikipedia article) if you’re interested in reading about the phenomenon, as it’s far too deep for me to really do justice here.
That’s all well and good, but what does it have to do with On Strange Loops beyond the title? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Mithras does justice to the album’s namesake, tying the strange loop into the music itself. It’s repetitive and self-referential throughout, and the final song, “On Strange Loops,” uses the lyrics from opener “Why Do We Live?” to close itself out. It’s not just these two songs that tie in, though; the whole album does. Each song flows into the next, which isn’t exactly a groundbreaking idea, but the brilliance here is that any of these tracks could feasibly be the start or endpoint of the album. I played around with this a bit, starting a full listen of the album on different tracks, and it works for just about every song. Second song “When the Stars Align” unfortunately doesn’t work the best as an opener, as “Why Do We Live?” is too much of an intro track to really work as a closer. It would have been cool had the band been able to do this for the entire album, but that’s maybe asking too much from this concept. And maybe I’m looking for meaning that isn’t there, but it’s hard not to with an idea as heady as this.
As admirable as it is making the music work with the philosophy behind it, none of that matters if it’s not well-written. It should come as no surprise that Mithras fully delivers on that front as well. As previously mentioned, some of the songs are fairly repetitive and surprisingly simple. For example, “Between Scylla and Charybdis” is comprised of only two riffs and a short guitar solo, but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most stunning songs I’ve heard this year. And that’s the way of the album; straightforward, but profoundly impactful. On Strange Loops is melodic, deliberate, and elegant, a far cry from the brutal death metal norm. Multi-instrumentalist Leon Macy’s barked vocals are harsh, but well-enunciated and as deliberately delivered as his guitar lines. The drums are insane, barreling forth with unbelievable intensity and aplomb, and the bass rounds out the riffs with its hefty low-end crunch.
All of this is supplemented by sublime production and effects. The rhythm guitars are both earthy and fiery, rich and warm. Leads contrast this with layers of tastefully implemented delay and reverb, which are also occasionally used on the vocals to similar effect. The drums, always a point of contention in this style of music, sound fantastic; if they’re triggered, I can’t tell. My single favorite effect is the Shephard-Risset glissando on “Inside the Godmind,” a sort of tone-layering trick that creates an audio strange loop as it slides slowly down the scale.
I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy On Strange Loops going into it, but I found myself replaying it immediately at the end of my first listen. And the one after that. With the end of each listen, I find myself eagerly looking forward to the beginning coming around again. The concept and execution are equally brilliant, though I wish I would have had lyrics on hand as I listened to it, as I’m sure there were some ideas lost on me as my concentration drifted off the vocals and to the guitar. It’s an album you can dive headfirst into as I have, but it works equally well as surface-level listening. You can make it exactly as deep or as shallow an experience as you want, and for that I give it:
∞/0 Toilets in Space
On Strange Loops is out Friday, October 21st via Willowtip Records, and is streaming in full at TeamRock. You can find the band on Facebook, and if you live in the UK, you can catch them on tour starting October 26th (dates here).