As an employee in a soul-sucking government bureaucracy, I’ve heard plenty of hollow buzzwords over the years. But amidst the ‘paradigm shifts’ and ‘synergy’ is a phrase I’ve always thought had actual merit: ‘disciplined initiative.’ Meaning: don’t be afraid to dream and try new things – but maintain quality control. Keep a grip on reality. Don’t fling a bunch of shit around in the name of innovation. It applies as much to the workplace as it does to music. Case in point: Canada’s Éohum.
Éohum are a Montreal-based musical collective formed in 2010 by guitarist, lyricist, and producer/general mastermind Jeremy Perkins. It’s an oddball group, including Matt McGachy (Cryptopsy) on vocals (though he’s since departed), a french horn/trumpet player, and several unknowns. Pretentious title aside, things seem promising enough for debut Revelations, Aurora of an Epoch: a glance at their Bandcamp shows Perkins is certainly passionate about musical innovation and… something related to humankind and traditionalism; the artwork is primitive, arcane, and – I’ll say it – kind of sexy; and genre classification seems to have confounded the Internet (descriptions range from progressive death metal to blackened doom to ‘avant-garde’). So where do things go wrong?
Frankly, it’s a little off from the get-go, with opener “Leaving Harbour” offering little promise and no clues as to the genre. Over ambient rainforest noise and female crooning, a woman (harnessing the enthusiasm of Ben Stein and the inflection of Calypso from Pirates of the Caribbean) recites a rambling, nonsensical poem about humanity as a metaphorical caravan… or something. As the listener attempts to make sense of what she just said, we’re treated to a segue featuring honking cars, machine gun fire, and a cheering crowd – which, while bizarre, is an unexpectedly awesome way to beckon the blaring trumpets and Thelema.6-era Behemoth riff that opens first proper track “Rooted Deep Within.”
Finally, the music – and really, it’s not as odd as you’d expect. At heart, Revelations is a death metal record with a lot of window dressing. It’s not bad, per se: the title track, “Equatorial Rains,” and aforementioned “Rooted” showcase an assemblage of imposing OSDM and mid-00s Behemoth riffs, agitated off-kilter rhythms, and skillful trumpet-guitar interplay that recalls a less bombastic and more Dead Can Dance-influenced Septicflesh. Vocally, McGachy covers ground from throaty roars to gruff, strained singing (“Defined Sacredness,” “Equatorial Rains”) to Aaron Stainthorpe-inspired warbling (“Thus Spewed Thy Infectious Reign”). He’s competent and emotional, if lacking somewhat in technique. And speaking of My Dying Bride, several bits recall their classic Turn Loose the Swans, including the drudging, disjointed doom riffs that carry “Defined Sacredness,” “Wiser Every Sunrise,” and aforementioned “Reign.”
The diversity is welcome, though it does make the coherency feel a tad undercooked over these 37 minutes – but that’s not the real issue. Sadly, the core death metal sound never rises beyond merely ‘good,’ offering few climaxes and little memorability. In fact, the most memorable moments stand out for the wrong reasons: see the sluggish rap-esque vocal patterns in “Wiser Every Sunrise,” culminating in the line “it’s the nature of this motherfucking game.” Somewhere, NWA’s agent is calling about a royalty check. Likewise, the title track features a trumpet line that I swear comes from a Looney Tunes episode, and the fade-out in aforementioned penultimate track “Reign” creates an abrupt and dissatisfying ending that’s only aggravated by mostly-ambient outro “Give Us O’ Rain.” Finally, while the production is clear and sharp, it lacks depth and features a somewhat compressed dynamic range that’s only nudged to 7 by “Leaving Harbour.”
My overall reaction to Revelations is paradoxical: on one hand, the foundation isn’t bad and the trumpet/french horn is surprisingly well-integrated – in fact, I’d love to see more world music elements incorporated (a la Cynic). On the other, the base death metal sound is never honed to a compelling point, while the worst ideas are shamelessly paraded and the faux-spiritual mumbo-jumbo mires the record in its own pretense. The result is a messy mix of fertile soil and diarrhea, which, moving forward, Perkins needs to separate using the cold hard shovel of reality.
It comes back to disciplined initiative – as even the most imaginative artist can attest, learning to recognize and discard one’s own shit requires more discipline than anything. Éohum offer both intrigue and promise, and I sincerely hope they learn this lesson. For now, I’m partially satisfied but wholly unconvinced.