As they prepare to say goodbye after 27 years in the trenches of Orange County heavy music, Project 86 has pulled no punches with their most ambitious project ever. Not only does the Omni double album follow a richly told post-apocalyptic sci-fi storyline, but also saw them replace their hard rock elements with industrial-tinged metalcore. This led to Omni Pt. 1 blessing 2023 with Project 86’s absolute heaviest music, with dynamic songwriting to boot. While frontman Andrew Schwab hinted at Pt. 2 having a lighter touch than Pt. 1, the difference between the two turns out to be more subtle. There’s still plenty of metalcore awesomeness to enjoy on Omni Pt. 2, with more room for electronic embellishments.
While a sequel in numerical terms, the narrative of Omni Pt. 2 reveals itself to be a prequel — bringing the focus to the events leading up to a dystopian future. Where Pt. 1 offers chilling speculations about the long-term effect of the power invested in the Zuckerbergs and Bezoses of the world, the opening cut “Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste” presents a world scarily close to modern times. Schwab makes unapologetic use of vocoder during the song’s initial crescendo, but the arrangement quickly builds momentum and plunges into jagged rhythms detuned sludge and savage screams. To hear Project 86 dropping music that can stand in line with the likes of Haste The Day and Silent Planet says a lot, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Singles “Ultraviolent” and “Pariah” show that the number of cool ideas Project 86 came up with during this album cycle completely justifies a double album. The former cut proves that it’s possible to play modern metalcore without getting too obvious with the djent-verse/Linkin-Park-chorus formula. Guitarist Grayson Stewart achieves a great balance between beefy breakdowns and melodious chord progressions, while Schwab retains his unique vocal cadences within a well-traveled musical path. By contrast, the latter song dispenses with melodic singing for a skull-caving barrage of string-bending Meshuggah worship and chaotic digital hardcore. It doesn’t get quite as destructive as “Metatropolis” did last year, but it’s still awesome to hear Project 86 push themselves to such extremes while remaining so authentic.
The earth-shattering drops and grating panic chords found in “Complete the Circle” or the moody electro-gothic tinges of “Trench Ejector,” Project 86 revels in creative liberty in their audio punishment. Both tracks share a range of dynamics made possible by layered instrumentation, and a respect for nuance within chaos. This also allows the non-metal flavors to mix seamlessly into the band’s sound without becoming jarring or disconnected from the loud guitar music portion. Matt Marquez blends his drumming with sequenced beats so naturally that the industrial beats feel like an extension of his own artistry instead of a producer’s addition.
Beyond the fact “The Ex and the Why” brings up-tempo electronic rhythms into its verses, the inconspicuous electronic underpinnings of its classic metalcore double-kick patterns show just how tasteful Project 86 can become with their chosen approach. At the very least, it elevates the fairly predictable 2000s chug-a-chug riffs with unpredictable switch-ups of timbre and rhythm. Similarly, the winding synth lines of “Taser 5.0” don’t so much create a contrast with the guitar arpeggios or staccato bottom string abuse as they deepen the sonic palette of the track. It also gives Schwab more room to flex his impressive range of spoken world-ish emoting, sing-screaming, and straight-up death growls.
Indeed, the fact “Boiling the Ocean” transcends the pitfalls of so many generic djent bands speaks to Project 86’s pervasive songwriting chops. When the tropes associated with Architects clones don’t appear here, they are easily eclipsed by the band’s attention to detail. From the eerie guitar leads and to the bodacious mosh parts, there’s always an extra push to freshen up these ideas and take them to a step above. If the blast beats and unrelenting breakdowns of “Shambolic” are indications, these guys aren’t afraid to go for the jugular with sheer violence. But with the frenetic skronk and chest-beating destruction comes the unsettling atmospheres and sweeping dynamics of a band with more to offer than riff salad.
Lines like, “Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it and at whom it is aimed,” in “Lonely Code” do a lot to contextualize Pt. 2 as a sharp commentary on society at large. The monstrous guttural vocals, disjointed mathcore assaults, and cavernous bottomed-out beatdowns tell a story about a hostile mental takeover. This illustrious lyricism is fitting for a record imbued with such a cinematic undercurrent. In turn “Medusa” comes through with zingers like “obedience is now your only sacred doctrine” to end the album with its most epic choruses mixed in with some of their best mosh parts.
As the band devolves into synth drones and brown-note oblivion, they’ve simultaneously set listeners up to circle back and enjoy Pt. 1 all over again and ended their career on an impossibly high note. Where many of their contemporaries have either called it quits or begun to sputter, Project 86 has proven once and for all their legacy as one of the scene’s most underrated artists. Fans will certainly get the brand finally they never knew they needed, and fans of smartly written metalcore will find plenty to chew on.
Project 86’s Omni Pt. 2 is out Jan. 12 via the band’s offical website.
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