If there’s one criminally underrated band whose discography I implore you to investigate, it’s surely California’s Cormorant. I sincerely rate their opening records, Metazoa and Dwellings, as among my favorites since the beginning of the new millennium. They’re unremittingly progressive, drawing influences from all manner of music since the ’70s, but tie it together delicately and emotively, all the while never ignoring the immense power of the riff. I’m such a fanboy that this happened a little while back. I regard Earth Diver as a step down from their amazing beginning but it remains a worthwhile album for fans seeking their work with a slightly harsher tone. I eagerly anticipated 2017’s Diaspora to examine their detailed musical tapestries, especially given the constant progression Cormorant seek.
It’s always been tough to pin Cormorant within neat genre tags but they’ve historically been highly progressive metal assimilating black, death and thrash influences. This remains true, though the thrashier parts have been phased out and replaced by a healthy vein of doom. It’s a prominent addition; first rearing its head around the 3:45 mark of opener, “Preserved in Ash,” fat chords and crushing percussion slow the tempo and actually surprised me. That a band always characterized by progression and diversity can still do so is a testament to the continuous musical journey undertaken, never satisfied or settling in one spot. The transition into the heavy passage at the start of “Migration” also demonstrates this facet with a huge riff and unearthly growls.
One quality which is consistent across their discography is the knack for excellent riffs. The innate and uncanny ability to write riffs which are simultaneously simple and rocking but also intricate and technical is one of Cormorant‘s great strengths and that holds true here. Diaspora is littered with great passages, such as the groovy introduction to “Sentinel” followed by the switch to speedy and horn–throwable chugs, and the melodic, shreddy guitar lead at 3:40 on “The Devourer” which feels as near as the record reaches to Metazoa or Dwellings. The duality of the simple and the subtle is why Cormorant is great, lending replay value as neat folds and musical crevices become apparent over repeated listens.
It’s also notable that Diaspora features but four tracks, the fewest written for any of their records. Nonetheless, it still runs a shade over 60 minutes, with “Migration” tracking a lengthy 26 minutes. Alarm bells immediately rang when I saw this but I was also aware that if any band could execute this without disappearing too far up their own asses, it would be Cormorant. I’m pleased to report that my concerns were unfounded and the boundless dynamism and maturity embedded in the songwriting confound any repetition or boredom. It’s a million miles from unfocused but features sufficient fluctuation in style and tempo to ensure engagement and show off the exemplary riffcraft. It’s worth commenting that Diaspora may be their least accessible album given its relative heaviness and lengthy tracks but it definitely deserves your time.
And yet, I still find myself yearning for a little more of what made Metazoa and Dwellings so special for me. I’m unsure if it’s the loss of Arthur von Nagel following Dwellings, whose contributions to the songwriting were substantial, but I find the ethereal beauty permeating the quieter passages noticeably absent. The quieter parts are still soothing, satisfying inhales but aren’t quite so transcendent as previously. It’s also unprecedented that they’re hedged into two long spaces on Diaspora, unlike their seamless integration across prior records. Found for five minutes in “Sentinel” and ten minutes in “Migration,” their roots truly embed given their durations but I consider that the seamless style formerly favored rendered that music more cohesive.
Nevertheless, Diaspora is an accomplished record by one of my favorite bands who seem incapable of producing anything less than stellar. It satiates any desires for dynamic metal and spits on genre boundaries and sub-par musicianship. Riffy and heavy yet subtle and proggy, Cormorant are the archetypal characterization of music which inherently appeals to me through careful use of dualities. While lacking some of their initial magic, it’s better than Earth Diver as it’s more thoroughly engaging. They remain a testament to DIY metal which is mature and professional even without a label’s interference. Kudos, chaps.