April 8, 2014

Cormorant - Earth Diver

Written by Justin C.

Artwork by Sam Ford

When I'm writing about a new album from a band I've followed for a while, I often like to immerse myself in their older recordings, too. Cormorant's new album, Earth Diver, is out, and to that end, I've spent the last week fully immersed in Cormorant-land. And given their history of genre-defying, thinking-person's metal, Cormorant-land is a damn fine place to be.

Cormorant 2012 - Arthur von Nagel & Matt Solis. Photo by Metal Chris

First thing's first, the elephant in the room: As fans of the band know, front man/bassist/lyricist Arthur von Nagel left the band after their excellent last full-length, Dwellings, to pursue a career in video games. There was naturally a lot of concern about what that would mean for the band. If they did continue on, would they lose their basic essence of Cormorant-iness? I was worried, too, but let me put the fear to rest: This band is as good as ever. There has been a slight stylistic shift. New bassist/vocalist Marcus Luscombe favors a higher, raspier black metal vocal style than von Nagel did, and as a result the black metal component of Cormorant's sound is a bit more prominent, but the rest of what you know and love about Cormorant remains. The guitars are simply brilliant. Check out album opener "Eris," which features lovely acoustic guitars that are at times folky, and at times even Baroque. Or the haunting, echoing tremolo that opens "Sold as a Crow" (my favorite track), or the wild classic rock/classic metal guitar solo in "Waking Sleep." The rhythm section is still tight and furious, and there are still lines of aching clean vocals floating throughout. I think what's worked in Cormorant's favor is that they've always kept moving, picking through genres and styles as it suits them, always growing. Even if von Nagel had stayed with the band, Earth Diver would have been another step in their evolution. A band like that can survive a line up change.

Cormorant 2012 - Nick Cohon. Photo by Metal Chris

Cormorant has always had strong lyrical content, and Earth Diver helps cement their place as master storytellers. As metal listeners, it's easy to view vocals solely as another instrument in the band, enjoyable in their own way even if they're indecipherable or focused on the usual metal tropes. Sure, the lyrics may just be about hobbits and Satan, but they still rip! (Not that I have anything against hobbits or Satan, mind you...) The songs on this album tell interesting stories, making them a pleasure to listen to and read. The words are straightforward, yet still poetically crafted. There's still a healthy dose of mythology involved. "Daughter of Void" tells of a monster that mixes the Pied Piper and the Sirens, luring children to drown in frozen waters in the Antarctic Sea: "Hair of a maiden, skin of a basilisk, / Stealing children too brash to comply, / sentencing them to the deep." "Sold as a Crow" moves into a more political realm, outlining some of the very shady biological weapons research conducted in Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA, after World War II. "A Sovereign Act" moves into the very personal, told from the point of view of someone overdosing on barbiturates to escape a brutal death from terminal cancer: "Self-made ending, transfer the power from the vile form / One last autonomous effort to accept what I've become." Bleak as all these themes may be (and hey, it is metal, after all), it's easy to marvel at the beauty of the storytelling itself.

Earth Diver is truly a brilliant work, and I can't recommend it enough.

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