Lineup changes are not rare events in the world of metal. They happen all the time, and with the wear and tear that bands on the underground scene have to go through, the unforgiving means of travel, the surviving day by day, it’s no surprise band rosters are so volatile. But even major metal bands are not immune, as all of the big ones have had personnel shifts.
It’s the major, band-altering changes that really shake us up and, as a result, the band itself. You know, the Bruce Dickinsons, the Rob Halfords, the Ozzy Osbournes, the Ronnie James Dios, the Dave Lombardos. Yeah, sorry Slayer. Nothing against Paul Bostaph, but get your heads out of your asses already. While they may not be on the same level as those giant bands from a recognition standpoint, what’s gone on with Cormorant the last couple years really worried me as a listener alone. When it was announced Arthur von Nagel, the band’s vocalist/lyricist/bassist announced he was leaving the group to get on with his life’s work, it seemed a catastrophic shift that couldn’t be covered. Who was going to step in and not just make good for von Nagel’s powerful, charismatic voice, but who would write up such deep, studied, imaginative words that made Cormorant so special? How could this band truly go on? I admit, I was really skeptical.
The band’s third release “Earth Diver” finally has arrived, the follow-up to 2011’s unbelievable “Dwellings,” and immediately I was full of butterflies over what I’d hear. That probably sounds over the top, but that’s how much I have enjoyed Cormorant’s music in the past, and anything damaging to their reputation would be tough to bear. But quite literally, five minutes into the record, all of my fears and doubts were squashed. The band feels completely alive, and while von Nagel always will be missed from the group, these guys are carrying on in the true spirit and ethos of the band, and they remain as majestic, thought-provoking, and huge as ever before.
Obviously von Nagel needed to be replaced, and filling his giant shoes (uh, figuratively … no idea what size he wears) is Marcus Luscombe, who handles bass and vocals and whose death growls are savage and devastating, ensuring you from the moment he opens his mouth that you’re going to get plenty of brutality even at his most imaginative. The rest of the lineup remains intact, and I certainly don’t want to take away from what they’ve always brought to the band because they’re also incredibly vital to Cormorant’s power. On guitar and vocals is Matt Solis, on guitars and other instruments is Nick Cohon, and on drums and vocals is Brennan Kunkel. They sound ferocious and adventurous on this record, delivering eight tracks that should thrill the band’s fans everywhere and erase any doubt anyone had about their survival.
The record opens with a quietly strummed, drama-building instrumental “Eris” that spills right into “Daughter of Void,” the first proper song on the record and one hell of a quaking statement. It takes a few moments to build before it blows open, with Luscombe unleashing his first hellacious growls and the band hitting a prog-fueled stride that matches the sentiment of the song perfectly. There are cleaner sections (including melodic singing that returns quite often on this album) that sound like classic Opeth, and the grisly meets the glorious as the song winds to a close. “Sold As a Crow” is up next, and it continues to swirl in the air, with aggressive guitar picking, punchy blasts of death, and vicious growls. As they are wont to do, Cormorant switch back and forth from destructive to openly melodic, never afraid to show all sides and colors of their personality, and the guitar playing does a nice job pushing the song forward. “Waking Sleep” is a stunning, history-laced storyteller set in Belarus that begins with quiet, reflective tones and singing before it opens into rougher terrain suited for the tale’s increasing danger. The drama pushes you and pulls you with its tides, dishing out heavy thrashing and pockets of tranquility, and the final minute clubs you slowly as the song bleeds out.
“The Pythia” opens sludgy and doomy, with tales of priestesses of Apollo, situated in Mount Parnassus and who were ancient soothsayers. Kunkel’s drumming is a highlight of this song, with his playing driving and keeping your blood pumping, and eventually the band hits on a heavy groove that could cause a rash of headbanging as people listen at home, in the car, wherever. “Broken Circle” has a long, drawn-out opening where the band takes its time conjuring a mood and getting your head into their psyches before they drop the bag of hammers on your head. The vocals are grisly and growl-filled, with the band hitting on a lightning-fast black metal pace that sizzles and fades into a new acoustic passage that allows the smoke to clear. The scene is bathed in cosmos, and as it stretches, the band builds layer upon layer, giving way to one final burst of energy before the song ends abruptly. “Mark the Trail” is the most unique track on here, giving off a Medieval feel (or maybe that’s just something I’m sensing) as they work their way through searing, triumphant guitar leads, surging punishment, and a feeling that might make you want to grab a sword and wield it against your enemies. Even if that’s just in your mind. Closer “A Sovereign Act” is an 11:39 epic that sludges and even trickles into funeral doom-style area both musically and vocally, and there even are times when the band breaks loose, kicks up the pace, and brings back the black metal effect one more time. Luscombe lets out some lurching growls, the song feels heavy as a truck full of cement as it reaches its finale, and the band lets the track bleed out into the night, leaving you enthralled but still dreaming.
So, I’m thrilled to have had my worries dashes pretty much immediately by this new era of Cormorant, and even losing such a vital piece of their legacy wasn’t enough to rob the guys of their energy and intensity. I feel pretty foolish to have fretted in the first place. Cormorant remain one of the best-kept secrets in all of heavy metal, a true DIY success story when really any label should be salivating to have them, and one of the most imaginative forces anywhere. “Earth Diver” not only is a worthy addition to Cormorant’s catalog, but it just might end up one of the most original, alluring metal records of the entire year.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.cormorantmusic.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://cormorant.bandcamp.com/album/earth-diver