Reviews list for Control Denied - The Fragile Art of Existence (1999)

The Fragile Art of Existence

Death's Final Revelation 

I knew nothing about this unassuming record from Control Deined when I fired it up, interested to check out some random Progressive Metal from the late 1990's. I was obviously expecting something Dream Theater influenced, but my assumptions were dashed fairly quickly when certain aspects of The Fragile Art of Existence had me racking my brain trying to figure out what it reminded me of. When the opening track "Consumed" started up, the rumbling bass riff pushed forward in the mix coupled with the dropped chug riffs and choppy song structure fit the bill of a Progressive Metal album, especially with the vocalist attempting to mimic the effects of someone like Symphony X's Russell Allen. But something was still off. I couldn't shake the feeling that this album had some serious Death Metal influences in it, with the drumming and guitar solos having some seriously heavy breakdowns in tracks like "Expect The Unexpected" with its dirtier guitar tone. I wrote it off for a while, but by the time I got to the closing track I decided to look up the band and wouldn't you know, it's good old Chuck Schuldiner, frontman and guitarist of the vastly influential Metal band Death

Sadly this was Schuldiner's unfortunate swan song, with The Fragile Art of Existence being the final album he would ever release before passing on. I'm sure a lot of fans would have preferred an 8th Death album as they were a band that could seemingly do no wrong with their unimaginable run of albums in the 1990's, but I think Control Denied showing Schuldiner tackle something slightly divergent from his usual material is fascinating to explore, even though it may come across as a bit of a disappointment. The Sound of Perserverance, Death's 1998 album, was already moving in a lighter and more progressive direction compared to 1995's Symbolic, so it's not too much of a shock that Schuldiner wanted to go all in on a more progressive release separate from the Death name. With the help of a different vocalist and less focus on being as heavy as possible, Control Denied pivoted Schuldiner's style in a very interesting way that is obviously still recognizable but admittedly watered down. 

Although Death and Schuldiner himself are normally seen as the "Godfathers Of Death Metal", compared to the grotesque scene today I've always found them to be more progressively inclined than most tend to admit. The Fragile Art of Existence is an experiment to see what taking a detour in the Death style of Metal looks like, and it's a pretty mixed bag to be honest. The guitar work is phenomenal and Schuldiner is in perfect form, giving more complex riffs some of his signature heft and energy. The solos absolutely rip and the Death Metal influenced chugs really shine through with the more prominent and complex bass lines. Death's work was already inherently erratic due to being Death Metal, but Control Denied is able to lean even farther into those tendencies with abrupt changes in tempo, time signature, and feel coming almost at random. The transitions are well put together for the most part, although it's hard to miss a beat when almost all of the base riffs in The Fragile Art of Existence are great. The vocalist has a ton of range, moving from a normal Power Metal style in "When the Link Becomes Missing" to full on screams in "Expect the Unexpected", but can get a bit awkward here and there with the way the vocal melodies and inflections are performed. It's also very overpowering in "When the Link Becomes Missing" and "Believe", taking away from the other, and frankly much better, aspects of Control Denied's performance. 

There's just something about this album that doesn't quite pan out in the end though, and I think it just comes down to the package being overall less exciting than a lot of other Progressive Metal albums. Schuldiner's guitar performance and writing is stellar, the pronounced bass adds a new dimension to the more progressive sound, and the drums do a great job of sliding in some of that hulking Death Metal influence, but it never really comes together in a way that makes it better than average. The vocalist and somewhat repetitive guitar work bog the album down and the abrupt shifts and changes in the music are neat but never truly exiting. I'm glad I got to hear some more nasty riffs from Schuldiner, but that's about as far as The Fragile Art of Existence goes for me. It would have been interesting to see how Control Denied would have evolved as this debut was definitely solid enough, but some things aren't meant to be. 

Xephyr Xephyr / July 18, 2020 03:38 AM