Ara – Jurisprudence Review

It’s a bumper year for cheesehead tech-death. Just two months after Aronious’s hyperactive tech/prog Perspicacity, the usually sleepy-badger-state metal scene has another platter to offer, this time in the form of Jurisprudence, the sophomore LP from Ara. The Milwaukee group choose a more focused approach to death metal than their fellow statesmen, taking influence from the experimental and contrapuntal works of Gorguts and Anata, reference points that should make any death metal head worth their greasy jacket take notice. It’s a style that worked well for them in small bursts on 2014’s Destroyer of Worlds, and after six years, the odds seem good that the band can release another lively slab of dissonant death metal.

At times, Jurisprudence is just that. In highlights like “Ashen” and “Etymologocide,” the band take songwriting risks that reinforce their dour and parched aesthetic. “Ashen” stops brutal riffing three minutes in to begin a seemingly unrelated dirge that builds back until the band can recapitulate a twisted melody from the song’s first movement. In the album’s longest piece, “Etymologicide,” the band again highlight odd melodies and less intense moments. The spotlighted Baring Teeth-style guitar line about five minutes in provides a welcome respite from the album’s dense instrumentation, and the intersecting guitar lines that end the song provide a very convincing denouement for the song. Throughout the album, Anata-meets-Demilich solos interrupt regular riffing for a chaotic injection of melody.

Ara prove themselves capable of writing some genuinely interesting long-form songs that are far more ambitious than those on their debut. But though more ambitious than Destroyer of Worlds, Jurisprudence is less immediate and tends to drag in spots. Most of the album’s riffing is somewhat mid-paced, and frequent rhythmic shifts and often linear songwriting compound the impression that the album is searching for direction without finding one. The album’s riffing also seems caught between more traditional brutal death metal à la Suffocation and more abstract styles. Leads often call to mind Anata but are paired with or soon give way to backing riffs that just don’t match their ambition.

But all these issues would be far less salient if Jurisprudence just sounded better. The drums take up the most room in the mix and sound compressed and canned, with barely any discernible difference between hits and a uniformly tight, gated sound. This completely clashes with the thickly distorted guitars, which provide all of the album’s interesting material. The record never feels organic, always produced. Like the drum kit, Adam Bunjy’s vocals are uniform and loud, completely devoid of affect or charisma. His hoarse bark is usually present and never unwelcome, but like almost every other performance, it’s rendered ineffective primarily due to poor production and pacing. Ara’s debut, Devourer of Worlds, sounded far more organic than this record in almost every respect; Bunjy sounded wetter and better-placed in the mix, Steinglein’s drums popped and splashed appropriately, and the guitars were far more dynamic. While instrumental separation, especially on the low end, is better on this record, it’s achieved by using tones that mix about as well as oil and vinegar. During everything but the densest moments, the layers of sound are clearly separated. Part of the appeal of the murkiest and most dissonant death metal is how difficult it can be to understand where sounds are coming from; there are no such mysteries here.

Much as I appreciate Ara’s ambitious approach to Jurisprudence, I can’t help but be disappointed by the record. The band’s refusal to fully commit to the avant-garde sound constantly pulls me out of their songs, and the record’s odd production makes even the best ideas difficult to fully enjoy. With more focused writing and more organic production,1 I can see Ara producing a truly captivating record on level with releases from Baring Teeth or Anata. But Jurisprudence can’t match the band’s ambitions despite a lot of good ideas.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide:
May 15th, 2020


Show 1 footnote

  1. Why not hire Colin Marston to at least master this record? His work on Devourer of Worlds was characteristically careful and humanizing.
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