Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Immortal Bird - Empress/Abscess

Written by Justin C.

Cover art by Kikyz 1313

It's easy to get fixated on subgenres in metal, although I'd argue that there's nothing inherently wrong with that impulse. Humans like to categorize things, and I've caught myself trying to work out the relevant percentages for Immortal Bird on more than one occasion. 57% death, 33% black, 10% grind? Take 13.7% away from death and add it to grind? Where's my pie chart, damn it? But although that genre slipperiness robs me of an easy first sentence for a review, it's also a sign that Immortal Bird are doing things right--if they slapped together a bunch of sounds and the boundary lines were clear for all to hear, it wouldn't sound as good as it does. So let's go with blackened death-thrashish grindy Bird-core and leave it at that.

Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Immortal Bird’s first full length, Empress/Abscess, is both a refinement and an expansion of the sound on the band's EP, Akrasia. Rae Amitay's vocals remain a fantastic centerpiece. Yes, they're raspy, screaming goodness, just like you'd expect and hope for, but they also bleed with emotion, be it rage, sorrow, or despair. One could probably argue that most metal vocals are packed with emotion, but it's no small feat to clearly convey such a depth and breadth of feeling while you're screaming like a banshee. The riffing proves itself to be the equal of Amitay's vocals, and I think they're also a step up from the previous EP. "Saprophyte" pits ringing arpeggios against thrashy chugging, only to switch it all up later to angular black metal dissonance. The opening of "Sycophant" could be from a straight-up hard rock song from that genre's glory days, although the entrance of Amitay's vocals dispels any illusion that this is retro radio fare. The interaction between the band members is another big part of these songs' strength. Vocals, riffs, and drums all key off of each other, acting and reacting. Like the genre blending, the lines between rhythm and lead blur. It's a pleasure to hear a band getting this so right--I want to hear musicians interact, not individual parts recorded separately without regard to the whole.

Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

The last two tracks of the album find the band stretching their sound. "To a Watery Grave" might start up with an air-raid siren riff that builds and breaks into a stomping, punk rhythm, but the band's not above having a little fun with a jazz piano reprise of the main riff later in the song. It makes me feel like I should be sitting in an opulent hotel, drinking a martini with my pants off. (That's what bankers do in opulent hotels, right?) Album closer "And Send Fire" is long by Bird standards, and it's a push and pull between slower, moodier sections and grinding, jagged fury. Is the outro a wee bit too long? Maybe, but maybe it only seems to that way because it's in contrast with the complete lack of filler through the rest of the album. Even with a bit more experimental flair than Akrasia, the songs are still immediately accessible. "Accessible" can be a dirty word in music, suggesting a lack of depth or interest, but that's not the case here. It's not "easy" music, but it's music that's easy to get close to. The songs are well crafted, making all the zigs and zags seem natural, rather than something to be puzzled over. Immortal Bird songs burn directly into your ear and stay there, and Empress/Abscess isn't going to be leaving my heavy rotation anytime soon.

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Tagged with 2015, death metal, Immortal Bird, John Mourlas, Justin C
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