When you’re coursing through the frightening wastes that constitute the promo bin at AMG, it can be easy to get lost in the sea of variety that exists within.1 So sometimes it’s nice to cast complexity to the wind and settle for some good old-fashioned “heavy metal.” No subtle keyboard wizardry (or overblown keyboard wizardry — dial it down, Nightwish), no special effects to carry me into another realm, no technical nonsense, just distorted guitars and shouting in tune for forty-four minutes or so. Crobot, you are what I was looking for this day. While the band describes Motherbrain as a more serious effort than their previous three full-length outputs, this is very much a traditional heavy metal record in its simplest form.
With Motherbrain, what you expect is very much what you get in terms of sound. Songs are reminiscent of Jorn; riff-driven, high-energy, and reasonably catchy, with big choruses and a vocalist who even sounds a bit like the aforementioned Lande. In particular, songs like “Burn” and “Alpha Dog” stand out for their strong riffing and huge choruses that tend to linger for a while. Even more in particular, “After Life” is moving in its directness, with powerful bass lines and gritty riffing propelling its monster chorus. It’s easily my favorite song on Motherbrain, and throughout its runtime, the band shines and begs to be explored further.
And yet, for all of its potential, Motherbrain is not, I feel, as compelling or as powerful as it could be. Of the eleven songs on offer, a lot fall far short of the standard set by the album’s gems. “Stoning the Devil” is a good track, a mid-paced romper with a darkly groovy riff. It’s followed with “Gasoline,” “Destroyer,” and “Blackout,” none of which make the same impact. The riffing feels a little less inspired, the choruses less catchy; the songs don’t feel so big. The trio is then followed up by the aforementioned “After Life,” which I still can’t say enough good things about. This makes for a rather bumpy ride through the Motherbrain.
The album finds its best moments in catchy vocal hooks more than memorable riffing, which is a part of what makes the consistency issue so profound. Take the album duo of “Low Life” and “Alpha Dog.” I can’t honestly remember a single riff from “Low Life,” but I can’t get its chorus out of my head. Brandon Yeagley’s voice has an ideal voice for this kind of metal, gruff and raspy, with some real power behind it. It elevates the chorus massively. “Alpha Dog” is the opposite; I love Chris Bishop’s groovy riffing, and the intro in particular stands out in my memory. Of the two, I think “Alpha Dog” is the better song, because the memorable riffs make it feel more complete. Both players have great talent, but it feels rare that both of them get to shine in a single song, and I think that’s a real shame.
In a nutshell, consistency is the only real issue plaguing this album. Crobot has put out some really good tracks and some okay tracks, and the result is too inconsistent to be truly enjoyable. To its credit, Motherbrain is energetic, well-mixed, and I have no issues with its production. The album’s gems absolutely shine, screaming of potential and promising that Crobot is still a band to keep an eye on. I’m a fan of the dark and gritty tone Motherbrain has, and I hope to see it realized better in future releases.