Not an album to be digested lightly or ill advisedly, it would seem, Cormorant’s latest offering features just seven tracks over a nerve-shattering fifty-five minutes of tightly-plotted metal that sits comfortably between Darkthrone and Mastadon as a sort of blackened prog-metal, the music often devastatingly beautiful while the vocals reflecting a savage nature that is as elemental as it is brutal. Following on from the impressive ‘Metazoa’, ‘dwellings’ sees Cormorant comfortably headed out into a territory occupied more-or-less exclusively by themselves with an album that is as intelligent as it is primal – sit back, this may take a while…
‘Dwellings’ opens with ‘the first man’, a song that opens with a riff that is eerily similar to Mastadon’s output via ‘blood mountain’ before heading off in an unexpectedly black metal direction with vocals to match and leaving listeners with a short-attention span gasping in its wake. However, as vicious as the riffs may be and as uncompromising as the band may appear, Cormorant have more to offer than just an aural trepanning, and as the track progresses elements of progressive metal and even post rock seep into the sound, saturating the song with light and shade, colour and depth; and while the vocals will remain impenetrable for those of a gentler disposition, the music is an unreserved triumph that is both beautifully constructed and played. ‘Funambulist’ sets a more considered tone with a clean-picked intro leading into some seriously heavy, slowed down power chords. The change in pace lends a duly authoritative sense of weight to the melodic proceedings whilst the vocals remain torn from the very mouth of hell itself. With some nimble bass runs, complex guitar lines that would make John Petrucci concentrate and awkward time signatures, this is hardly easy listening, but it is fascinating and exhilarating and, moreover, despite the complexity nothing here is over-egged or thrown in for the sake of it. Beauty rubs up against searing ugliness and the overall feel is that Cormorant are taking you on a journey that, whilst terrifying at times, is fascinating and rewarding for all the fear that it might hold.
‘Confusion of tongues’ neatly sidesteps the issue of confusion and/or tongues by being mute – an ambitious and impressive instrumental, it is mind-bogglingly complex but not so convoluted that it fails to hold your interest. Said interest peaks on the colossal riffs of ‘Junta’, however, a piece that recalls the drowned majesty of Germany’s The Ocean on their most recent outing, with the vocals roared over a torrential outpouring of sound. It’s a massive, epic piece of writing that moves through multiple moods and is never less than inspirational. Variety is the order of the day, although that variety never sounds forced or lacking in cohesion – the stages that the songs move through are natural and carefully developed with each idea given time to evolve and grow before gently segueing into the next section taking on a near symphonic feel in the way the music flows so naturally. ‘The purest land’ is the most progressive sounding of the tracks here – stair-stepping guitar riffs, deathly backing; it’s reminiscent of nothing so much as Australian loons The Alchemist who did so much to fuse death and progressive rock and the result is a song that’s part Dream Theater, part Darkthrone. Erring more closely to the feel of the latter, ‘a howling dust’ is a lengthy track with a rawer, darker feel that cleverly evokes the feeling of being caught in the blistering, sterile heat of the desert. It’s a dry, brittle track that is combined with some intelligently written and powerful lyrics, and it beautifully subverts the typical icy cold of black metal, utilising the riffs to capture the dry intensity of the blazing sun and wandering dust of the desert leaving the listener gasping and choking in its wake.
The final track is a twelve minute epic – an apt finale to such a demanding album – which captures the band at their most elegiac; the lyrics stunning in their power and beauty, so much so that you feel they should be bound and presented separately in order to hold them in the respect they deserve. Meanwhile the music shimmers and washes over the listener doing the words full justice in the process. It’s haunting, beautiful and, even after what has gone before, quite unexpected. If ever a piece of stunning cover art was exemplified in musical form it is here with Cormorant developing a blazingly powerful, subtle, ecstatic finale to their album.
In a year that has seen some truly remarkable albums (Unfold, Crooked necks, Deep Desolation, Christ Agony etc…) it’s remarkable to find yet another strong contestant for album of the year, but here, at the eleventh hour, Cormorant have crafted a truly wonderful piece of work that will easily appeal to fans of complex, heavy, intelligent music. For all their deathly overtones and harrowing black metal aspects, Cormorant have ingested so much that is great about the music of the past forty years, from scintillating progressive passages to sweeping epic sections to the driest, bleakest black metal, that they have crafted something genuinely original and overtly exciting. A thrilling, beautiful ride through dark moods and the stunning vistas of the band’s imagination, this is not one to miss.