With Proponent For Sentience Allegaeon have delivered a musically complex, intelligent, and absorbing concept album that can rightfully sit alongside the true greats of the medium. With a lyrical arc rooted in science-fiction yet uncomfortably encroaching upon the reality of the present, the record captures the Fort Collins, Colorado natives at their most ambitious and accomplished, pushing the boundaries even further than on their three previous critically acclaimed full-lengths. "With this record we're bringing ideas to the table that corroborate the fact that at this juncture, robotics as a field is moving forward at an alarming rate," explains vocalist Riley McShane. "This story is dotted with examples of real-life scientific advancements, and it is also perforated with details of humanity's flaws. Overall, the record tells a story that is still a bit too far fetched to be based in reality, but isn't too far beyond the scope of imagination to see occurring within the not-so-distant future." The title of the record encapsulates this, yet there is a dichotomy that is integral to the story. "On one hand there's the stance of 'I'm a proponent for sentience to help the human race'," explains guitarist Greg Burgess. "On the other hand it's a misanthropic statement - 'I'm a proponent for sentience, so machines will recognize the vastly negative impact of humanity and wipe us off the planet.'"
Such grandiose and intricate thematic material requires a suitably grandiose and intricate soundtrack, and the band - rounded out by guitarist Michael Stancel, bassist Corey Archuleta and drummer Brandon Park - pushed themselves harder than they ever have before. Given that this is a band already lauded for their extreme technicality and capacity for writing music of truly epic scale, taking things to the next level is always going to represent a challenge, but one they tackled head on. "Musically the album evolved as we were writing it," explains Burgess. "Mike and I were definitely a little panicked when it came to following up Elements Of The Infinite (2014), and I think mostly that was due to how busy our tour schedule was. But, that really made us work fast, which ended up working out, because we were much more prepared going into the studio." That they have ventured into far more expansive musical territory than previously explored before is evident from the moment the record starts. As "Proponent For Sentience I - The Conception" rushes from the speakers the listener is met with a veritable wall of choral vocals that is soon joined by similarly powerful orchestral elements before the guitars, bass and drums come thundering in, bringing to mind Dimmu Borgir at their most monumental while sounding almost impossibly huge. From the start, Burgess envisaged such elements as a strong presence across the album, and he worked with "silent sixth member" Joe Ferris to realize these. "Some of the songs actually started from ideas we wrote for orchestral parts. Sometimes I'll have a skeleton of the orchestral and choral parts and how I want them to flow, and Joe sometimes just improves upon it, in other instances he takes the idea and totally re-imagines it into something truly inspiring." The three parts of the title track - "The Conception", "The Algorithm" and "The Extermination" - which Burgess envisaged as a sonata, not only provide the overall framework for the concept but also unite the songs over the course of the record. While these individually and collectively represent the pivotal moments of the story they are also among the most epic and sweeping music unleashed here, yet such elements suffuse each of the tracks, none sounding more sinister than "Demons Of An Intricate Design", while "Terrathaw And The Quake" captures the band at their most anthemic. At the other end of the sonic spectrum, the record also wields some truly beautiful and sonically understated parts, such as the extended flamenco sections of "Grey Matter Mechanics - Appasonata Ex Machina", and throughout, the players were always cognizant of not repeating themselves, maintaining the core Allegaeon sound while always pushing it forward. "If we do something multiple times on an album we refrain from doing them on the next one," says Burgess. "For example on Formshifter (2012) we had a lot of pedal point moments that we haven't done since. Between Formshifter and Elements Of The Infinite we had a lot of sweep picking themes, so we cut that out on Proponent For Sentience. As for solos, you have your bag of tricks that you constantly try to add to so you have new ideas to play with. Melody in solos is what speaks to me, if you can sing a huge proportion of your solo you've done a good job."
Presiding over the music is the mighty voice of McShane, and that his contributions to the record are so commanding is all the more impressive considering that this is his first release with Allegaeon, coming into the fold after vocalist Ezra Haynes stepped down in 2015. While the band auditioned three singers, McShane was always the frontrunner in Burgess' eyes. "In 2014 around the same time we put out Elements Of The Infinite, his band Son Of Aurelius put out their album Under A Western Sun and I was blown away. They had transcended straight tech death, and added more of a progressive element that was everything I ever wanted to accomplish within Allegaeon. Riley at that point became my favorite modern metal vocalist, so when you've got your favorite guy wanting the gig it's an easy choice." To say he brings a formidable range with him is something of an understatement, and his breadth of styles, diversity, and the power with which he imbues everything that leaves his larynx is one of the most electrifying elements of Proponent For Sentience. "When we're warming up and I hear Riley singing Andrea Bocelli in the next room it's amazing. You ask him, 'hey man, can you put some throat singing on this?' and he replies 'Yeah, no problem', as he does on "All Hail Science". Anything we have in our heads Riley can produce, and that is exciting." While some bands might feel justifiable hesitance to hand over lyric writing duty to a new member, particularly a band known for their intricate and detailed science-based lyrical concepts, McShane immediately stepped up, connecting with the ideas forwarded by Burgess and running with them. "Almost every song on the album has some sort of tie-in to the concept," the vocalist explains. "For example, "Of Mind and Matrix" is about a machine brain coming to consciousness for the first time and being overwhelmed by the new sensory experience, and as the album moves forward, so do the lyrical themes that tie into the concept. "Cognitive Computations" details the philosophical theory of computationalism, which basically states that the human mind can be reduced to a series of computations, thus consciousness is something that can be, one day, recreated. This serves as a conceptual tie-in from the angle that it explains a little bit of the realistic possibilities behind the ideas of advanced artificial intelligence. After that, the song "The Arbiters" comes back to the fantastical elements of the concept by speaking from the perspective of an intelligent machine realizing its purpose to destroy humanity with a sense of moral justification. This serves as a lead-in to "The Extermination" which is also written from the perspective of an intelligent machine. Even the songs that don't directly tie-in to the concept of artificial intelligence eradicating humanity are about scientific advancements, so they're still attached to the idea of science and human understanding moving forward at an alarming rate."
Reuniting with Dave Otero (Cattle Decapitation, Cephalic Carnage), who has handled production duties on every Allegaeon full-length except Formshifter, tracking the record was an always rewarding process. "Dave always just pushes us to be better," states Burgess. "Our relationship has morphed over the years, going from a stance that was almost combative and us being resistant to his input to the point we're now at, where we straight up ask him for it. If he says something from one recording session I try to internalize that critique and remember that while writing." In tracking "Proponent For Sentience - The Extermination", they also recruited Soilwork singer Bjorn "Speed" Strid to lend his instantly recognizable vocals, adding a further dynamic, and guitarist Benjamin Ellis (ex-Bloodshot Dawn) also provides a solo on that song. While this track stands as the album closer, the band decided to also include a cover of the 1982 Rush classic "Subdivisions", which was initially intended as a bonus track for the Japanese release but has instead become the album's "final exclamation point." Having planned to cover Deicide's "When Satan Rules His World", that the band have a vocalist who can sing opened up their options. "When Riley said let's cover a prog band, it was like 'now you're talking!' I'm a huge Rush and Yes fan, and I think Brandon jumped at playing Neil Pert. It's a hard thing to arrange Rush and keep the spirit of the original intact, they're like a sacred band, you don't want to mess with it too much. However, we're a metal band so we had to change a few things to make it fit our style, and I think we managed that."
While achieving all they set out to with Proponent For Sentience, things are already progressing in Allegaeon's world, and album number five is already being gestated, though they plan to hit the road hard before returning to the studio. "At this point, our main goal is to make it overseas and to start thinking globally, and to be able to tour with bands like Lamb Of God, Soilwork, Scar Symmetry, Slayer, Carcass or Machine Head would be dreams come true," Burgess enthuses. "But, we have also already started writing the next record, and we're very happy with the progress so far. And yes, we have a very epic/big idea that's pretty ambitious, but it all comes down to money and if we'll be allowed to do it!"