I need to get this out of the way immediately: this is not really Kronos‘ kind of record. You see “Progressive Metal” marked on a promo and you never quite know what you’re in for. Usually, it’s Dream Theater worship or worse, djent, but sometimes it’s actually good. In the case of Auditory Armory, it’s an odd mix of mid-paced power/prog/death riffing and sultry female vocals. What’s one to do? Well, review it.
And so I begin. Jump into Dark Matter at just about any point and you’ll come up against the make-or-break vocals of frontwoman April Montallana. She’s all over this record and mixed high up, so she absolutely makes the most of it, poking little nuances of tone all over the place. Montallana’s delivery is unmistakable, though that’s not always for great reasons; the best comparison I can give for her singing style would be a smoothed-out Avril Lavigne1. She’s kind of throaty, breathy, and has a tendency to turn every vowel into an “a.” As with Lavigne, some people are sure to find this pretty endearing, and some will not.
Things come together best on “Love You to Death,” where Montallana’s delivery is backed up with aggressive and interesting instrumentation that really provides her something to sing over. Sure, the bridge is, well, bad, but when she’s doing something closer to a Miny Parsonz impression in the verses, Montallana is quite captivating. The real problem I have with this album isn’t her singing – it’s a taste I’ve not totally acquired, but not a dealbreaker – but the lack of energy in most of Dark Matter. The band seems pretty content to plod along just backing her up, so much so that when “A Path Unknown” breaks out a riff straight out of Human halfway through, it seems like a burst of technicality unparalleled in our time.
Worst of all, that Death riff totally sounds like Death. The tones on this album are dry and straight out of the mid-’90s, complete with drum reverb and chunky bass. These sultry vocals don’t fit at all over such a dry, distorted rhythm guitar tone, and that poor axe is just begging to be played fast and loud. Instead of paying homage to their Florida death metal heritage, the band is just regurgitating its sounds in an inappropriate format.
When the band ditches their death metal pretense, as they do for a while on closer “Dark Matter,” they prove they can dish out some interesting and genuinely enjoyable progressive metal, and so long as Montallana can restrain herself from singing “aaaaaaayyyyyy,” she just about complements the instrumentals. But these scattered moments where things come together don’t make up for the record’s dreary pace and the wince-inducing “Cry Little Sister,” which sounds exactly like you fear it does. Auditory Armory feels like a band in a conflict between a desire to play ’90s prog-death and a need to serve a singer who just doesn’t work in that context. Montallana has the personality for sure, but she never puts out the vocal power that would really make her band sound convincing. Amorphis wouldn’t work at all with the singer from The Cranberries2, just as I’m sure The Cranberries would sound pretty odd with either Koskinen or Joutsen on the mic. Dark Matter tries to make itself work, but it’s simply too far a stretch.