Metal is a genre that is so overwhelmingly dominated by bands that it makes listeners more likely to assume solo artists will sound amateurish at best (unless of course you happen to be Devin Townsend or Misha Mansoor’s Bulb). In this regard, Adam Washington stands out as a clear anomaly. While solo metal artist records hold a stereotype of “terrible solo progressive metalcore bedroom project,” this record is not that. Instead, this solo artist has managed to stand out in a sea of modern brutality by focusing on the more palatable end of the genre’s spectrum.
Released in 2021, Artifacts I is a metalcore offering with just enough progressive metal elements to land squarely in the sonic landscape of older Northlane and Periphery, or newer Born of Osiris. The record borrows in acceptable ways from djent without ever leaning too hard on its most tiring stereotypes. Unlike some of those aforementioned artists, Washington never truly embraces the more brutal end of his genre. Even in the heavier passages, his composition style remains more in the melodic lane, and the singing-screaming balance recalls Killswitch Engage – contra the Born of Osiris comparison above.
In other words, this album presents a very pretty side of metal – replete with orchestral and keyboard textures throughout, and even closing with a solemn acoustic ballad. In fact, depending on how you count it, there may be more soft parts on this record than heavy ones. The heaviest part on the album is, debatably, the breakdown riff at the end of “Ghost,” which shows up well past the album’s halfway mark. This is a feature, not a bug. Washington’s singing voice ever so slightly surpasses his screams in quality. They’re both very good, but his singing voice carries the sonic identity of this project. While many metalcore vocalists tend to blur together across the genre, it is a rare and distinguishing quality to have a good melodic vocalist who doesn’t sound autotuned to death or agonizingly strained in an upper register reached by unhealthy pushing. This celebration of a natural sounding human voice comes across as refreshing and grounded in the current context of an ever-increasing arms race of vocal brutality.
In fact, there is something about this album that really makes it seem like Washington is wearing his church influences on his sleeve. The background vocals sometimes feel particularly choral, the arrangements don’t shy away from sounding major and uplifting, and the melodies really do feel intended for group singalongs. “Moments of Reflection” is an instrumental piece that could easily be used as lead-in or follow up to prayer in church. The last minute and a half of “The Archetype” exemplifies the spirit of this album perfectly. It is clearly metal instrumentation, but the atmosphere is heavenly, yearning, and essentially devotional in tone.
And, as it concerns the discussion about heaviness, the closing track “2020” feels like a real contender for the heaviest song on the record. Yes, that would be the acoustic guitar ballad. Released in 2021 with the previous year as a title, there are very obvious themes of loneliness and isolation that permeate every moment of this song. It is so raw and emotionally vulnerable that it’s a little bit difficult to listen to. After my first time listening, I absentmindedly asked out loud – I guess to Adam Washington, whom I have never met and who was not physically present – “are you ok man?” It speaks to a level of artistic self-disclosure and songwriting that deserves to be taken seriously.
Not to undersell the quality of this as a metal record – there are plenty of really good riffs, breakdowns, lead guitar parts, and even a stray blastbeat. That last element appears on the third track, “The Tower,” which is perhaps the standout piece of the record – sprawling in length compared to later numbers at almost 8 minutes, and dynamically ambitious. It’s the most blatant foray into “progressive metal” territory, and a welcome display of Washington’s ability to think outside the box. Alongside some of the best orchestral passages and singalong hooks on the album, “The Tower” showcases Washington’s mastery of the “twin guitar harmony” riff style that characterizes everything from Iron Maiden to At The Gates.
All is not absolutely perfect here. The guitar tones feel a tad bit thin in parts – mostly consisting of midrange “honk – and they sometimes lack the kind of attack necessary for the moments when more modern style riffs appear. The tones suit the Maiden-core riffs well, but leave me wanting a bit more heft during the chugs. And for as much as I’ve praised the melodic sensibilities of Artifacts I, it could stand to be even just a bit heavier in parts. The penultimate track “Xion” opens with modern metalcore riffs for the first thirty seconds, followed by half a minute of djenty breakdowns layered over dark orchestral textures. This aggressive opening gives way quite suddenly to very soft guitars, waltzy ballad rhythms, and eventually major-key singalong vocals. Granted, all of this sounds really good. It’s just that Artifacts I as a collection feels like it never truly gets a chance to just explode, and would have likely benefited a lot from having at least one absolute through-and-through rager. The mezzo-forte-ness of it all works well, but some true fortissimo would have been nice.
Nevertheless, this record is a grandiose showcase of multi-instrumentalist skill. The fact that basically every sound on this thing - guitars, drums, keyboards, sung vocals, and growls – is made by Adam Washington warrants a considerable level of respect. Given that this is a fairly recent release, there is plenty of potential for us to hear more from him - and this is a ridiculously good starting point for an independent solo prog-metalcore artist. This is a worthy debut on all counts, and we can only hope for an Artifacts II at some point from Adam Washington.
Apple Music - https://music.apple.com/us/album/artifacts-i/1602755352
Maxwell Aka is a Canadian musician and writer. He performs and records with many musicians and works as a fundraising writer for ADRA Canada.
Photos courtesy of Adam Washington
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