Cormorant // Dwellings
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —Deep and enjoyable
Label: Unsigned (DIY)
Release Dates: December 7th, 2011 – Worldwide
Cormorant is a band that I probably would have never found on my own. Instead, I just randomly got an e-mail from their promoter a couple years back, where she hooked me up with the band’s 2009 release Metazoa. I was duly impressed by what these coasties had to offer, so when I saw that these guys had a new record coming out, I definitely reached out to get a promo of it. And I’m happy that I did, though I think that Dwellings is a different beast from Metazoa. Bad? Definitely not. But did the band grow and get a lot better? It seems like the maintained a pretty even keel during the two years away.
Cormorant is part of this west coast scene that’s been blooming since the early 2000s. For those of you familiar with the scene, this should give you an idea of the sound already. Stripped down from what you get from commercial releases (I’ve been interchanging the new Nightwish record all week, and I always have to turn the volume way down when I put that record on), this record sounds like it was recorded in about 1983. The guitar tone is solid, but not re-amped to the point of being unrealistic. The bass is audible and fat and the drums sound like.. fuckin’ a, drums! This puts them into the same sort of category soundwise of bands like Shroud of Despondency or Hammers of Misfortune and they’re much better for it. This has a good atmosphere to it and the production is perfect.
Of course, songs are more important than production, and in interchanging with Nightwish all week, I had a really good chance to think about these songs in a very unique context. In fact, Dwellings is like the negative of Imaginaerium. While it’s sweeping and large at times, there isn’t a traditional “hook” on the whole record. While songs like “A Howling Dust” and “Funambulist” contain beautiful, lush melodies that poke at your soul, nothing is really repeated for emphasis. More often than not, the band is meandering into Agalloch or Ulver territory in their approach to black metal or Taake and Shroud of Despondency territory with sort of post-thrash riffing like on the lights out “The First Man”. But these styles are all blended together into a stew of progressive extreme metal that is punctuated by NWoBHM riffing and the occasional guitar melody and the thoughts are never truncated to an easily consumable form.
The same can be said for the lyrical content. Covering difficult issues like eugenics (perfect for metal in some ways) but difficult in a a scene with some dirty laundry), the Junta in Guinea, suicide bombing and any host of difficult to stomach topics in a way that goes beyond the Steve Harris School of Lyric Writingâ„¢ (see: “Alexander the Great” for the prime example), Cormorant definitely hits home on the poetic/lyrical front. While von Nagel could definitely called a bit of a pretentious shit, I like his approach, because it’s obviously he takes this stuff seriously and it translates to the music. The lyrics and the vocals are not going to be everyone’s cup o’ tea, but I think both are strong successes and I dig it.
Though, it’s not like it’s hard to get into this record. The writing is engaging, the songs are really well written and despite the long running time (56 minutes), I’ve listened to it a couple times a day since I’ve gotten it. In the process, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed Metazoa, which is also a really great record. So, pulling that back out and comparing some things, it’s pretty easy to hear some differences. While the black metal and NWoBHM influences stand out, Dwellings eschews references to 70s prog and Opeth (with the exception of the final track, which actually has a bit of a “Black Rose Immortal” breakdown in the middle). This change left me kind of longing for it, honestly. They did a pretty good job of doing that sort of delicate 70s acoustic rock stuff without sounding too hackneyed or like their source material. I’m sure they were sick of getting comparisons, but some of the cleans go missing on this album.
All-in-all, I’m fucking stoked about Dwellings, though. It’s a really solid album from one of the lights of the American underground. The best thing about them is that because they’re driving the DIY bus, they’re doing everything they want to do, which means that they’re supportive of people sharing their music and they’re putting out good packaging that makes me actually want to buy this record (check out their bandcamp for more information on this). Cormorant is what a 21st century metal band should be like. If you dig progressive, extreme metal and that sort of American west coast sound, you should definitely check this record out. It might not be quite as good as Metazoa, but it’s still pretty fucking rad.