Say what you will about Arizona’s Job for a Cowboy, but the divisive modern death metal unit certainly inspires fierce debate between metalheads on either side of the fence. I haven’t found much reason to form a strong opinion for the band one way or another, aside from their preposterous choice of moniker, and frankly I’ve been fairly nonplussed about their career thus far. Of course, for many they got off on the wrong foot from the beginning with the dreaded deathcore tag hanging heavily over their 2005 debut Doom EP. Wisely and gradually the band has evolved past their deathcore roots into a technically proficient modern death metal band. Despite Job for a Cowboy’s trajectory moving in the right direction, during my admittedly limited time spent with their past couple of albums, the band’s clinical delivery and lack of songcraft has left me underwhelmed and largely unimpressed.
Well lo and behold, with their fourth full-length, entitled Sun Eater, Job for a Cowboy have finally fused their undoubtable instrumental talent onto a far more interesting and complex musical base and written their most advanced and memorable album yet. Sun Eater marks an intriguing turn of events in a career plagued by identity issues and the band’s reoccurring struggle of style over substance. While their respective evolutions had very different beginnings, I can’t help but draw parallels between Sun Eater and the drastic reinvention undertaken by Decrepit Birth between the relentlessly blasting debut …And Time Begins and its highly evolved follow-up, Diminishing Between Worlds. Sun Eater maintains their polished and aggressive modern core, but significantly ramps up the melody and adds a prominent proggy twist into their formula.
While there’s never been any doubt over the band’s considerable musical talents, this is the first occasion where Job for a Cowboy have maintained my attention and kept me on my toes about what to expect next. Sun Eater comes loaded with winding, complex arrangements, interesting musical ideas and highly technical musicianship that features the most fluid, natural performances the band have put to disc. Bassist Nick Schendzielos is deserving of considerable praise, and not just because his bass is actually audible. His rubbery basslines frequently take on a life of their own, strongly contributing to the intricate, progressive nature of the album and enriching the individual songs. The acquisition of Intronaut’s Danny Walker as a session drummer is another inspired move, adding further gravitas and rhythmic complexity to the mix. Those already familiar with Walker’s drumming might have an inkling of what to expect, but even by his high standards Walker’s performance here is colossal.
Despite the powerhouse rhythm section demanding ample spotlight, the performances of the remaining members are top notch as well. Guitarists’ Alan Glassman and Tony Sannicandro wield their axes with newfound confidence and finesse. The guitar work deployed by the duo covers significant ground, from aggro sledgehammer riffs loaded with groove, to piercing leads, serpentine melodies and exhilaratingly over-the-top solos. They have clearly worked hard honing their craft since the last album, embellishing their technical, aggressive playing styles with a strong progressive undercurrent and blistering shredding action. Meanwhile Jonny Davy has developed into quite a formidable vocalist with his versatile array of deep growls and mid-to-high range screams.
Opening duo “Eating the Visions of God” and ”Sun of Nihility” set a high standard from the outset, showcasing the band’s newly deconstructed sound in all its dexterous and progressive glory. “Stone Cross” is a knotty amalgam of spidery prog, shifting dynamics and meaty grooves, while the aggressive “Encircled by Mirrors” features a propulsive, choppy structure that somehow remains cohesive.The adventurous songwriting finds Job for a Cowboy seemingly unafraid to take creative risks and mix things up with diverse results, such as the sinister melodies of closer “Worming Nightfall.” The gritty dirge-like juggernaut plunders ahead with predominantly slower tempos and cavernous growls. However, for all its strengths Sun Eater is not all peaches and cream. Although there are no throwaway interludes or outright missteps, overall the album feels a tad too long at nearly 50 minutes. Some swift slices with the butcher’s blade would have resulted in a leaner package.
Job for a Cowboy are also guilty of falling into the common trap of technical/prog death metal bands, in that each composition is a mutating feast of killer musicianship, complex structures and standout moments, yet it’s difficult recalling specific songs or hooks once the album subsides. That said, Job for a Cowboy’s compositional skills have improved dramatically, and while it may be difficult isolating specific songs, each track features its share of cool songwriting moments. Plus the sheer depth and intricacies of the material requires multiple listens to unlock, boding well for replay value. Unfortunately Jason Suecof’s production suffers from the fate of all too many modern death metal albums, in that it’s heavily brickwalled. The instruments are easily discernable and feature clean heavy tones, but it’s a damn shame such rich and dynamic songwriting is hamstrung by the sonic limitations of the recording.
Settling on a score for this album has proven particularly difficult. Sun Eateris a thoroughly surprising and engaging album from a band I didn’t previously care for and as such its quality might have been subconsciously inflated. And then of course there are the production issues. Regardless of numbers this truly is an exceptional progressive death metal album, perched near the top of a formidable pack of albums releasedduring a very fruitful year for the often maligned sub-genres.