Super Massive Black Holes – Calculations of the Ancients


I’m writing this article just after I returned from a show with jazz wunderkinds BADBADNOTGOOD. In between the cathartic adrenaline rushes from each snare roll, the manic on-stage antics, the sweaty clamour of suburban hip-hop nerds, and manic stage dives from their urban counterparts, drummer Alex Sowinski delivered the band’s spiel: “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right”, urging everyone in the room to form bands with their friends, play music, and be inspired. Canadian quartet Super Massive Black Holes take this idea to heart, having been formed as a ‘casual, play-anything project’ in 2010.

SMBH brand themselves as ‘progressive death metal’, though that’s a far too limiting label, since over the course of the album, they showcase a hugely diverse array of genres and influences on their creative palate. Although they have a distinctly avant-garde feel to their music, with elements of jazz, blues, folk, space rock, djent and way more, the songs aren’t lost in pretense or over-ambitiousness; they just rock, and do it well. The album has a total ‘fuck yeah!’ quality to it, packed with thrashy percussion, triumphant and kick-ass riffs, and even a vocalist that sounds as if Jamey Jasta fronted a techdeath band. The technical skill on display is remarkable, well-rehearsed, and though a little sloppy, each musician shares great chemistry and each brings one their own influences to the record.

The band really shows their quality in their performances. Spaced-out bridge segments like in ‘Distance to the Great Attractor’ give the band time to have fun with themselves, feeling like structured jam sessions with atmospheric solos akin to Bulb and mid-90s Meshuggah. They really show off on ‘Dyatlov Pass Incident’, starting with a prog-rock crawl before busting out some Sleep-esque stoner rock riffage and breaking into a jazz number. There’s a huge amount of variety packed into such a small space, and each song feels dynamic and constantly-evolving. While with a record, packed with such variety, the listener could quickly become numb to the musicianship on display. SMBH made some efforts to amend the flow of the album with short instrumental interludes between sections, still they are enjoyed in small doses.

As a band, Super Massive Black Holes are immersed in their meticulous technical prowess, but with enough energy and grit to deter the basement-dwelling metal nerd. Although at times it feels like the death metal counterpart of a self-parodying grindcore band that pokes fun at overused genre conventions, but they have more than enough talent to go above and beyond, and having fun with it at the same time.

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