I’m always on the lookout for something new, and in that regard, The Ever Living seemed pretty promising. Formed in 2016, this British quintet label themselves with the unusual tag of “cinematic metal,” and their vocalist claims they aren’t even really a metal band at all. Nonetheless, the group’s self-titled EP earned positive acclaim from some major heavy music publications back in 2016, and two years later these not-ThunderCat-villains1 have returned with debut full-length Herephemine. Having no idea what “herephemine” means and no prior experience with Living, is “cinematic metal” worth the trip to the theater or are you better off waiting till this comes out on Netflix?
Genre tags aside, there’s no doubt Living have something interesting going on. Imagine Neurosis with a maelstrom of electronics layered in and you’re on the right track. While there’re plenty of lumbering guitars throughout these 12 tracks, it’s easy to see why the ‘metal’ tag may not be appropriate, as there’s often just as much emphasis placed on thrumming ambiance. Keyboards, synths, and background electronics swirl together to generate a sense of vast atmosphere, recalling a moodier take on last year’s Allochiria album or a post-metal version of the final Altar of Plagues record. The similarities are cemented by vocalist Chris Bevan Lee, whose vomited screams add a desperate edge that hits all the harder when you consider the group’s Black Mirror-esque lyrics about the woes of modern technology.
But don’t get too excited. For as engrossing as their sound is, Living trip up when it comes to writing songs with a sense of resolution. Opener “The Great Defeatist” begins with as much promise as anything else, surging forward on huge chords, Lee’s gripping screams, and a dramatic piano line running beneath it all. There’s lots of emotion and some notable ideas floating around, but overall it feels like it’s lacking something. Lee’s vocals never change in inflection, there’s no new lead or riff introduced to serve as a true climax, and in general “Defeatist” feels like a good song that doesn’t really go anywhere.
Sadly, this largely remains the case for the rest of Herephemine. Early highlight “Incandescent Array” features terrifically lush keyboard lines, but it too fails to deliver the second half wallop it truly needs. Later tracks like “Funereal Waltz” suffer the same fate, this time exacerbated by a bloated runtime and redundant ideas. In fact, with a 66-minute overall length, Herephemine could have easily lost several of its later tracks with no detriment to its quality.
Still, it’s not a total loss. Interestingly enough the instrumental tracks are actually some of my favorites here, with “The Nocturnal Itch” standing out in particular by sounding like a lost Aphex Twin B-side with its echoing melodies and distant pulsing beats. Other interludes like “Prismatic Dissonance” offer welcome texture by evoking Tool’s spacier moments. Likewise early standout “The New Mutiny” forgoes vocals for much of its runtime to foster a mellow and expansive buildup, making it one of the few tracks that actually feels like it has a destination. It’s enough to make me wonder if Living would have been better off leaving out vocals altogether or at least employing them more effectively.
The production also works well, and though the atmosphere may have been enhanced by easing up on the compression, overall the mix hits hard and effectively combines the dense layers. The guitars sound suitably boomy and the churning basslines that occasionally pop up are a pulsating treat. That said, it’s Lee’s electronic programming that’s the real star of the show, with his swirling ambiance and dramatic keyboards making this easy music to drift away into.
Ultimately, Herephemine is a difficult album to rate. While I love Living’s style and sense of aching desperation, their inability to write songs that truly develop and the climax is frustrating, not to mention they’ve yet to learn the importance of self-editing. The group shows a lot of exciting potential that fans of Rosetta and their ilk may appreciate more, but overall I can’t shake the feeling that this music is ‘cinematic’ in the same way as a two-hour arthouse film with extended nature shots and no discernible plot. Stylistically it can be captivating, but when it comes to substance, The Ever Living need to hone their skills before they can leave a lasting impact.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Chromism Records
Websites: theeverliving.bandcamp.com | theverliving.com | facebook.com/theeverlivingofficial
Releases Worldwide: May 4th, 2018