Do me a favor, y’all: if you haven’t heard Alkaloid’s last album, Liquid Anatomy, I highly recommend you check that out. It’s one of the best progressive metal albums of the last decade, and their debut, The Malkuth Grimoire, is right up there with it too. This German progressive metal band is a top-notch example of what’s possible within the genre and, I’m happy to say, their new album is right up there with their past work.
Numen is Alkaloid’s most grand work yet, focusing on larger-than-life entities like incomprehensible gods and the cosmos that they inhabit and toy with in processes creative, destructive, and meddling in the middle between those two extremes. Since the band’s inception and first album in 2015, they’ve played fast and loose with themes of science fiction, space, H.P. Lovecraft, and more to use as binding thoroughfares connecting the known and unknown universe that asks big questions we’re not entirely equipped to answer in reality - so Alkaloid made some up.
It’s through this alone that the band manifests some interesting art, but when it’s paired with wild progressive metal fit for a space-faring adventure is when we get something truly remarkable. Even Numen’s weakest track is tech-death of an astute level and has a thematic place in the bigger picture (that song is “The Cambrian Explosion” if you wondered). The rest are veritable clinics in prog metal of all kinds - take “Clusterfuck” for instance. Numen’s lead single would have you believe there’s a calmness to the album’s core, mirroring the deafening silence and blackness of space, and maybe so. It’s mid-tempo and catchy as hell, showing the band and the genre at its grooviest and also its most philosophical, interrogating the hubris of humanity’s search for divinity only for us to reinforce our smallness (and perhaps unworthiness) through failure. The chorus smartly sums it all up:
“Raise cathedrals for man
Tear them down in disgust
Not because we can
But because we must
Raising Eden from dust
Since our downfall began
Not because we must
But because we can”
On the other hand (tentacle?), “Shades Of Shub-Niggurath” I thought was a reference to the original Quake game, but it turns out Shub-Niggurath is a Lovecraftian god first and foremost - the All-Mother in fact. As tired as I am of Lovecraft’s chokehold on metal’s themes and lyrics, they are done notably well by Alkaloid. This song is more hardline prog metal, yet still makes room for an almost theatrical, sing-songy hook where clean vocals collide with throaty growls vocalist/guitarist Morean employs most of the time, creating one of the most memorable moments on Numen.
“A Fool’s Desire” really plays in the melodic stars for some huge riffs that are understated by extreme metal standards, but the weighty grit of the guitar tones never lets the heft leave your mind. This is some of Alkaloid’s best songwriting yet, which is saying something. The same could be said for the title track which is technical and tough, but doesn’t get lost in the sauce even though it continues a growing Dyson Sphere saga started on their first album. In fact, you’ll find that the band somehow manage to stay relatively grounded in spite of the gargantuan themes and sonic modalities they utilize.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Alkaloid is something that shouldn’t work as well as it does. They bask in tropes so well worn, you can’t even sell them on Depop - yet they work. They unabashedly toil and flail about in the pools of prog metal - yet they aren’t overly cheesy and feel mature. On paper, this should be fairly middling and lifeless outside of the technical prowess, but everything hits in a big way; big enough to be an Outer God of the genre I’d think. The back half of the album is definitely denser with the front being more apt for raw entertainment value, but that just means there’s something there for people who want to read into lyrics and story synopses to help grasp the interdimensional size of Numen.
Bottom line: Alkaloid continue a trek through the stars to be one of progressive metal’s preeminent modern acts. If Liquid Anatomy was lightspeed, and it is, then Numen must be ludicrous speed. Time will tell if it settles upon the same pantheon the band’s past work firmly resides, but first impressions are already quite telling. The band hasn't missed a beat through COVID hardship and time’s already cruel passing.