Before this last week I’d never heard of Cormorant1 or of Saturnine Media. Because of this, I was able to be pleasantly surprised by what is one of the best underground albums of the year. But if you’re reading this, you don’t have to be surprised, you can go out and buy it as an informed consumer. You’re welcome.
Cormorant is a strong blend of a lot of different styles, but arguably at the base of it all, these guys are a progressive death metal band. That doesn’t say much of anything, does it? Think: Opeth meets Primordial, My Dying Bride, Ulver, At The Gates and rocks it out like Iron Maiden. None of these influences are deniable, but none of them are too prevalent in the work that these guys have done. Instead, Metazoa is a smartly blended concoction of progressive metal which doesn’t cease to wind, twist and surprise. And with the exception of a moment or two where one thinks they hear a definite influence (or at one point in the track “Hanging Gardens” I’m actually pretty sure I hear a The Black Dahlia Murder riff…..), for the most part these guys are able to blend these influences to craft a vaguely familiar, but new sound.
From a songwriting perspective, this record is great. But I did spend the whole album sort of expecting something a little bit… MORE. Instead, Cormorant offers a lot of headbanging riffs, but they never up the musical ante, so to speak. While the band has progressive structure, they never branch out much technically. I think this is a point of growth for the band, where they could really coin their own sound, in a sense and work to impress. That’s not to say that the simplicity and honesty of this music isn’t also excellent. Metazoa is well-balanced musically, and I do really appreciate the Iron Maiden style two guitar leads which stuck in your head, without having to listen to That Swedish Guy or a Bruce Dickinson impersonator. The simplicity and the honesty of a lot of this stuff is really impressive, but there is definitely room for growth.
Another thing that stands out for me is that the lyrical breadth and talent that is available on Cormorant‘s Metazoa: a phenomenon that doesn’t show up a lot in metal. Bands like Primordial, for example, have some really excellent lyrics. But even other progressive death bands like Opeth find themselves on the lacking side lyrically. Cormorant on the other hand has a solid lyricist who speaks well poetically and writes on a wide variety of interesting subjects without being cheesy. From the French Revolution to illegal immigration, von Nagel intelligently and artfully crafts images with his words in a way that is highly uncommon in heavy metal. However, some of the clean vocals performances on the record leave a bit to be desired, particularly the clean vocals at the end of “Hole in the Sea” in which someone is doing their best Primordial impression and sounding horrendously off during it. But, all-in-all, the vocal performances are dynamic and good, and they match the lyrics perfectly, making a blend that is rarely seen in modern metal.
If you hadn’t noticed, I think that Metazoa is a great record (and a fucking tough one to review). My complaints above were enough to not make this the best record of the year or anything, but I do have to say that I see Cormorant as a band with a ton of room for growth on top of the fact that they’re already highly developed. If they can keep their smart, catchy melodies combined with technical music and impressive lyrics and vocal performances (including the female vocals from Deborah Spake, who has a truly captivating voice), I think that these guys are on the road to somewhere special.
- Cormorant: “a large diving bird with a long neck, long hooked bill, short legs, and mainly dark plumage. It typically breeds on coastal cliffs, and is noted for its voracious appetite.” This voracious appetite has come to be used figuratively implying “an insatiably greedy person or thing.” – Thanks OAED ↩