So many amazing artists out there just haven’t received their due attention yet. I try to highlight some, but the sheer number of them astounds me. Well, today I have one that progressive metal fans absolutely must hear. That would be Etrange and their sophomore album Engime, which released on September 1st.
Etrange is a French duo who go by the names Velhon (keys, programming) and Deadale (guitars, bass). I remember when a friend reached out to me about the Etrange debut back in 2019, and thusly I whisked away into the grand aura that these two musicians envision. I have to admit, though, that this sophomore record is even better.
The band plays a sci-fi influenced and soaked instrumental progressive metal. It is energetic and meaty in its guitar work, yes, but also ethereal and colorful in its cinematic side. In fact, the thing that really makes their sound work is the contrast between the hefty guitars and the majestic keys. At a base level, they make music that is both heavy and inspiring.
I think there is more to it, though, especially on this record. The band has created this concept of a self-aware artificial intelligence that is housed within a space probe. Etrange is its name, and you’ll see it throughout their concept art as it flies off to worlds unknown, often looking for its creators. For this album, it encounters a copy of itself named Engime, and the winding musical journey tries to understand whether or not this is a twin or some sort of fracture in the space-time continuum.
Look, I know this is instrumental metal, but I think the concept and overall themes matter here. You’ll notice that the band loves science fiction of all types, and I had to chuckle as they shared posters of various sci-fi films edited to include Etrange. I absolutely love that. This isn’t just a spacey metal that you may have heard a million times. No, this is metal inspired by all the science fiction you know and love. From my perspective, Engime is a realization by the band of their own concept, moreso and in a far deeper way than their debut achieved.
Why does that matter? I think it matters because of how much it will increase your enjoyment of this album. This album is, on its surface, a beautifully balanced and grand affair, but listeners with discerning ears may be able to pick out motifs and basic ideas from various sci-fi scores. I wouldn’t say it’s exact, but close enough that this album evokes a sense of nostalgia, despite being brand new. And it isn’t just within the filmic keyboards in all their sweeping glory; no, the guitar work here is very purposeful and exacting in what it expresses. In that way, this record hits very close to home, even though it explores the furthest horizons of the galaxy.
Engime is a magnificent creation. It has six tracks and is around 48 minutes in length, and it honestly ends sooner than I want. It has such a deep and universal sound that I never want to leave. The first half is a strong introduction, but, in my opinion, the second half is truly out of this world.
The opener “Entity” begins as a rousing, metallic monolith, and I honestly wondered where the sci-fi elements were. The song, however, morphs into a sweeping, orchestral beauty that feels like mystery and discovery simultaneously. It is a grand beginning. “Nexus” is another heavy one with some quirky keys to cut through the wall of riffs. I really like how alien it sounds.
For me, each track on the album is better than the last—right up to the closer—so “Irradiance” arrives and is the best one yet. I love how spiritual and fleeting it sounds. It has its metal moments, but this track is focused more on the majesty of melody and wonder, and it feels a little pastoral, even, in its ponderous moments.
The second half of Engime is something special. “Gemini” is the longest track on the album at 9 minutes, and it has a sinister and alien vibe to it, at least at first. The track features plenty of playful moments, though, almost dance-like in groove and harmonious in feeling. The contrast between its darker and lighter sides is the real meat on its bones. “Möbius” comes next, and what a track full of splendor and cinema it is! It has a more delicate, piano-based sound at times—quiet touches of this and that, but the parts that really grab me are the hypnotic, winding orchestral segments that, combined with the driving guitars, evoke pure wondrous space to me. In fact, it reminds me of the asteroid belt scene in the Empire Strikes Back score with its vast, winding sound.
“Eclipse” is the closer, and it is my favorite. I feel like the keys and sci-fi elements are denser here, and the song breaks into what I consider prog rock portions, dropping some of the metal components for a cruising sort of ambiance. It is very cool, calm, and collected, if you know what I mean. I love the darker electronic segments and filtering, introspective ending.
You may not have heard of Etrange, but they just released one of the best, most imaginative progressive metal albums of 2022. This is an album of nostalgia, creativity, wonder, and passion, and those things can be heard in every nook and cranny. This is a celebration of not only science fiction and all its wonderful creations, but of the unknown, of mystery, of majesty. Of infinitude. It is easy to be carried away into the picture it paints.
Find Etrange online: