Of all places, Pennsylvania has seen a strange upwelling of prog-death bands in recent years. It started with the much-maligned Rivers of Nihil, gained momentum with Black Crown Initiate, and finally got going with Alustrium. Burial in the Sky jumped aboard with their 2016 LP Persistence of Thought, an album very much in the progressive vein of those groups, tying in bits of classig prog-death a la Atheist and Cynic with the tropes of core-polluted modern death metal. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of this kind of prog death, but even Rivers of Nihil eventually made a tolerable album, and when I first sat down with it Creatio et Hominus exceeded my expectations.
In the most reductive sense, Burial in the Sky sound like a proggier version of Rivers of Nihil who actually write riffs. Their brand of progressive death metal reaches wide for influences; beyond the typical trappings of modern death metal, there are hints of ’70s rock, ambient music, and film scores, all of which make for great additions to the record. As does the band’s eclectic added instrumentation, which the promotional materials1 list as including mandolin, kalimba, and saxophone.
The problem lies not in the setup but in the punchline. Though Creatio et Hominus looks like an album I’d really enjoy, I can’t remember any of it. After listening to it dozens of times in the last few weeks, I can’t recall much about it at all except the monotonous deathcore vocals that ruin the mood of almost every song. The album slides between spaced-out prog and Rivers of Nihil pantomime, tumbles from crunchy guitars to smooth saxophone, and yet the vocals are stuck on one speed and that speed is “festival pit incitement.” What’s even more spectacular about this failure is that this appears to be intentional. “Tesla,” those nice promo materials tell me, features the band’s ex-vocalist, whereas the rest of the songs feature their current vocalist. The two voices are indistinguishable.
Burial in the Sky do a lot of things right here, and when the pretense of brutality rolls back and the actual pretense comes to the fore, Creatio et Hominus can be quite enjoyable. The title track’s connection of Fallujah and Pink Floyd worship feels both sincere and a bit snarky, lending the album some much-needed character and the listener some much neded rest from those tiresome bellows. The band check the boxes for mastery of basic tech riffs (“Nautilus’ Cage”), Haken-ey keyboard theatrics (“Psalms of the Deviant”), and moody intro track (“Nexus”) to keep things moving through the rest of the album. Fun to listen to, but after the seven minutes of “Creatio et Hominus” I feel no compuslion to listen to any part of the album again.
An insipid vocal performance blemishes this album, but the unripe writing is what truly makes it difficult to stomach. One could ignore the vocals and enjoy the album if ony the album offered something enjoyable anough to justify the task. Creatio et Hominus starves one for originality. It sends one searching for hooks, for novelty, and for emotional narrative, all in vain. I can appreciate the band’s talent and ambition (as well as the album’s excellent production) only in the moment it is replicated before my ears. Creatio et Hominus amounts to little more than prog-death muzak and vanishes from the mind as soon as it passes from the senses.