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.

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