Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cormorant's Earth Diver

I've developed an increasingly bizarre relationship with Cormorant's music.  

Before I begin I would first like to give a disclaimer: this is as much a written critique of Cormorant's style of music and the direction it's taken than a review of Earth Diver itself.  

With that in mind... 

I think it's safe to say I liked Metazoa from the start.  After a few listens I liked it even more.  After a few more listens I really began to see and understand that it was an incredible album, and somewhere along the way "liked" turned into "loved" and Matazoa climbed its way onto my all time favorite albums list, and there I think it will stay forever.

Dwellings was a little different.  Everything about Dwellings indicated that it should live up to Metazoa.  At the time of its release I think I was so used to Metazoa, and identifying Cormorant only with Metazoa, that I had a hard time letting Dwellings have the impact on me that it should have.  There can be no doubt, Dwellings is brilliant.  It's far more technical than any album needs to be to be good, it's tight and fluid all the way through (the band claimed it's even tighter and more focused than Metazoa), it's as dynamic as all get out, the songwriting and tempo variations are flawless, the riffs are melodic, the overlaying of instrumental melodies are executed with pinpoint accuracy... all signs indicated it was Cormorant.  Unmistakably so.  So I kept waiting for it to impact me the way Matazoa did.

Earth Diver is Dwellings redux.  Not musically.  But it is in terms of the response it's elicited.  I want so badly to appreciate this the way I appreciated Metazoa, to feel those feelings again, to be impacted.  I want it to feel fresh again.  Metazoa was so fresh.  Earth Diver feels burnt.

I think one of the problems I'm having with the music is the overabundance of melody.  There are so many melodies stuck in here, and stuck in there, that the music feels forced.  By forcing in so many melodies at every opportunity maximum emotional potential is trampled upon, and instead of hearing build ups or crescendos we just hear a different melody stuck in where it doesn't belong.  Take the intro to "Solid As A Crow," which, like a lot of Cormorant's intros, is brilliant.  At some point that melody altogether evaporates, and it's never replaced by anything that's as contextually appropriate or emotionally impactful.

"A Sovereign Act" is another example.  If Cormorant had simply taken the theme of the first minute or so of the song, held onto it, expanded on it, built it up, there's no telling what heights the song could've soared to.  As it stands, most all parts of the song are unmemorable and lackluster because nothing is fleshed out.  Even the intro, which is, like the intro of "Solid As A crow," brilliant, is lost and suffers deemphasis in the endless sequence of subsequent riffs and tempos.   

There is no flow.  The songs never lock into a coherent groove.  The riffs don't interlock at all and the songs just blaze on in no discernible direction with no sense of purpose.  The listener is jolted around.  Melodies and riffs cede endlessly into one another in an endless procession of, what amounts audibly to, wasted material and spent creativity. 

The worst consequence of this formulaic approach to songwriting is lack of emotion.  The music isn't inspiring.  I could wrap my head around Metazoa.  It wasn't too much.  Dwellings and Earth Diver are just endless barrages of exhausting cycles of tunes that at times seem dysfunctional and conflated.        


However, despite Cormorant's approach to writing music, in the way I've described above, there have been noticeable progressions in their sound from album to album.  By this I mean that there have been significant enough differences from album to album to really highlight the direction Cormorant is heading inMetazoa was more or less melodic death metal with some folk and black metal influences, Dwellings was progressive blackened folk metal, and Earth Diver is progressive black metal with fewer folk influences.  Sure, Arthur Von Nagel's departure is noticeable, as everyone expected it to be, but Marcus's harsh vocals are just as strong if not stronger and they accompany Cormorant's blackened sound just fine.  There are fewer folk elements on Earth Diver than on Metazoa and Dwellings, which makes the music all the more aggressive and progressive and exhausting.  Earth Diver is a little darker than Cormorant's previous albums

Most good bands, at least the bands we'll remember decades from now, have discographies with traceable directions, and each album can be associated with a progression, a difference, while still being unmistakeably recognizable as an album by that band [insert memorable band].  Cormorant has all the traits of such a band.  But the general feeling I get when listening to Earth Diver is that of, as I've already mentioned, complete exhaustion.  The music tires me out.  It's somehow, despite its intricacy and technicality, still repetitive and vapid.  Their changes in direction have not remedied the issues they face as songsmiths.    

With all that said, I'm positive there are a lot of people out there that would love Earth Diver if they unearthed it.  The music is so technical.  And there are so many avid tech death fans out there.  Cormorant's music could be a bridge gap between fans of a number of different genres.  Cormorant has as much potential as any metal band I've heard.  Their talent and passion is absolutely undeniable and they have enough creative juice to fuel about ten bands, and if they would simply take lass material and do more with it, the sky could be their limit.

Most bands have the opposite problem - not enough creative juice and not enough passion. Most bands struggle to pump out more than a couple memorable melodies per album.  Advice to Cormorant: keep some of that music in your minds pent-up.  Let it flow from you and don't do it by numbers.  Don't let ambition become self-destructive.

Ambition has a way of devouring the once mighty.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

ARAKK's Self & Distance (demo)

There seems to be some confusion about the release date of this recording.  It was recorded in the summer and fall of 2013, and released in June 2014.  I noticed Metal Archives has it documented as a 2013 release.  That's incorrect.  It's a 2014 release.  It's also documented as a demo.  That may be correct, but it's unclear.  It's not a full-length, given the recording is just one 24-minute track, but it might be an EP.  It doesn't have the poor quality most demos do.  Either way, it's a recording that needs to be brought out into the open.  It has the potential to make some serious noise in the metal community.  This band has the potential to be the next big thing in funeral doom metal.

ARAKK hails from Copenhagen, Denmark, and consists of:

Jesper Christoffersen - Guitars/vocals
Kasper Ralsted Jensen - Guitars/vocals
Nicholas R. Tesla - Bass
Johan Trærup - Drums

Aske Øland Kjærgaard - Synth/programming

And on this recording we're fortunate enough to hear guest vocals by Ayo Krohn Mikkelsen.  Maybe she'll decide to join the band (and/or appear on future releases).  We can hope so at least.  

Self & Distance is a doom track to behold.  It has the painfully mournful and funereal riffs, calm, brooding atmospheric landscapes, hauntingly dreamy vocals (not dissimilar to the vocals of Sara Timms on Black Math Horseman's one and only record), crushing passages and building climaxes.  

From the 11:05 mark to 17:15 the pace really slows down and we hear a slow drum beat, an occasional guitar strum and the marvelously effective, almost chanted, whispering vocals of Ayo Krohn Mikkelsen.  The whispering at times sounds like its layered together as it builds.  The vocals come to a sudden halt and a soft, slow guitar melody follows before things get real heavy again.

Recommended to anyone who likes funeral doom and has the patience to sit through a 24-minute song that, despite its length, remains interesting and captivating throughout.  I'm already looking forward to ARAKK's first full length. 


Monday, June 16, 2014

Profetus' As All Seasons Die

...To Open The Passages in Dusk, for some reason or another, never grabbed my attention. I've got a copy of it on vinyl but I've never taken it out of the sleeve to put on the table. My listening time is valuable, and I don't like to spin records that don't affect me emotionally/psychologically, and that one just never did.  

It's a bummer because there's, in my opinion, not enough funeral doom to be heard, and when a band records funeral doom of Profetus' variety, with high production value, it's really a shame when it's monotonous (and no, not all funeral doom is monotonous, believe it or not).  Thankfully we have Mournful Congregation, Skepticism and Ahab to turn to when pickings get slim.  But it's still nice to get a different artist in the mix every once in a while.  Like Loss in 2011. And like Profetus in 2014.   

As All Seasons Die is an improvement over ...To Open the Passages in Dusk. It's the third full length from the funeral doom outfit from Tampere, Finland, where the snow lasts from late November to early April.  It's not nearly as lengthy.  It's thirty-six minutes instead of fifty-eight, so it doesn't drag on as long, and it feels like it's more crafted.  

Profetus' music is heavy, plodding and burdensome, but it's not of the impenetrable wall of sound variety like Evoken or The Call of the Wretched Sea/The Divinity of Oceans-era Ahab.  Profetus' music, while certainly heavy, has a rather serene aspect to it that isn't found in most doom metal.  It's mesmeric and immersive.  The listener is swept away in it and carried off to some far away place that isn't exactly inviting, nor uninviting, but arcane.  Most funeral doom is just doleful and depressing.  Profetus' is not.  It's more mysterious and introspective.  Forlorn, perhaps, and somber, but not 'I want to go kill myself' depressing.     

"The Rebirth of Sorrow," "Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn" and the last five minutes of "The Dire Womb of Winter" are particularly mysterious and at times damn near spellbinding.  The solo in "Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn" is very Mournful Congregation-esque (it reminds me a lot of the solo in "The Waterless Streams").  The spoken word chants add to the mystique.  I must say, I like the sparseness of death growls.  They're fine where they are, but the spoken vocals better compliment the album's atmosphere. 

This isn't an immaculate album, but parts of it are definitely worth listening to.  There is a chance it could win Best Funeral Doom Album of 2014, but it will have to beat out Concrescence of the Sophia and Skepticism's and Aldebaran's upcoming albums.  It's so rare for a funeral doom album to remain captivating throughout its entirety.  We have to select the parts we like and return to them over and over.  And I'm completely content doing this because the parts worth returning to are so, so good.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thantifaxath's Sacred White Noise

In the court of Thantifaxath.

And a dark, chilling, ominous court it is.  Fringed with candles and animal skeletons, a stone floor, deep recesses cut into the stone and blood stains abound, there have been many incantations spoken in this court.  A wooden door clad in metal hinges leading to a staircase winding down into a chamber is the only exit.  No shafts of sunlight grace this court.

Every so often three figures in black hoods, whose faces we cannot see and whose identities remain anonymous, enter the court through the great wooden door clad in iron, light the candles on the fringe, and play beautiful, foul, dissonant, claustrophobic black metal.  But not before they take a light hit of psychedelic drugs.  

Sweeping anthems and mesmerizing chords engulf the court and resonate throughout the halls as the three men in hoods play purposeful, calculated, piercingly ornate music that summons dark spirits and then entrances them.

The music is thematic and blistering, atmospheric, shrill, harmonically disconcerting.  It's black metal with the weight of doom.  There's a great weight to this music.  The three mysterious musicians surely feel the weight of the music they play, and they must feel anguish.  Tremelo picked harmonies drone on and on.  Sometimes the light is bright in the darkness.  Sometimes darkness and light blend together. 


When the anthems end and the chords echoing off the walls die down, and fade away, the spirits sober and retreat back into the crevices in stone from whence they came.  For a while there is a gasping in the darkness.  And then even the sound of the gasping disappears. 

And once again the court is silent and still.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Saor's Aura

It seems like there are more and more one-man bands cropping up all the time, especially in the extremities of the underground.  Panopticon, Borgne, Woods of Desolation, The Fall of Every Season, Saor.  It's amazing how these artists are producing such impressive, well-rounded compositions.

So many atmospheric black metal bands have exhausted the themes of cold winters in the northern lands, dark forests in the night, and silent lakes at the coming of dawn.  Not that there's anything at all wrong with those themes (they're very appropriate for this style of music and oftentimes very moving), but it never hurts to hear something different once in a while.  This album brings something different, but something not unfamiliar.  We've heard these sounds before, but they're a little less cold, and a little less dark.  This album brings the wind to your hair.  

Also, despite its Celtic, folky leanings, there is nothing in the sound reminiscent of war.  We don't feel like we're being led into battle.  This is a good thing.  War metal is almost as bad as weightlifting metal.  Instead, parts of this album are reminiscent of Écailles de Lune - era Alcest, which is never a bad thing.  The intro to "Aura" sounds like "Sur l'océan couleur de fer" with the chanting and soft guitar melodies.

The sounds are layered together nicely.  None of the instruments, be they keyboards, piano, acoustic guitars, replicated strings, whistles, feel out of place.  Everything flows.     

This is beautifully crafted black/folk metal.  The melodies whisk you away to the hillsides of Scotland.  It's sorrowful, yet triumphant.  Rarely are black metal albums so bright, but this one is.  And the future of this band is bright.  

Northern Silence Productions has, so far, brought us three of the best albums of the year: Woods of Desolation's As The Stars, Cross Vault's Spectres of Revocable Loss (even though it's on Eyes Like Snow, Northern Silence Productions is its parent label), and now Saor's Aura.  

Keep up the good work!