03. The Shape
04. Discordant Symphony
08. The Fall
11. My Perverse Disguise
Just as I’m about to lambast 2011 for not delivering on the death metal front, Sideblast show up, blow me away (obvious pun avoided) and let me know that I’m just not looking hard enough. Of all places, France isn’t my first thought when it comes to modern death metal; even I remember a time when French metal was basically a joke, so it’s no wonder it took me this long to catch up on Cocoon. They’re a fairly new band to me, having only one previous album, but if there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s my gigantic musical boner for Strapping Young Lad. Sideblast are pretty much channeling City and Alien with all their might and the music is definitely there; diet-Meshuggah chug sections, turn-on-a-dime tempo changes and ridiculous synths all jostle for space on Cocoon in a surprisingly tasteful way.
It’s weird that many of the best bands from France essentially take another fairly individual band’s sound and tweak it into a far more sleek version of the original. For instance, Gojira are pretty much the bastard child of Morbid Angel, and fellow country men Scarve also share a love for the heavier side of Devin Townsend. This isn’t meant in a bad or accusative way; I have no problem with imitators/tributes as there is genuinely nothing new under the sun anyway, but that’s merely an observation.
Despite this, don’t think they are just a boring derivative; Sideblast offer up some really solid songs on Cocoon. “Barbarians” is probably the most straightforward track on the album, with its basis mainly around some simplistic Fear Factory chug patterns, but the latter half of the song takes a grandiose, symphonic and nearly black metal-style feel and forces it into bed with a breakdown (don’t cringe, it works well in this case). Follow-ups “The Shape” and “Discordant Symphony” are the main attractions though, the former being a relentless blastfest that takes an obvious influence from Behemoth, and the latter being a basic tutorial of simple but great pinch harmonic based riffs.
Don’t think that riffs are the only things on offer here though – drummer Sebb keeps things largely straight forward but not out of lack of talent; the first comparison that springs to mind being Kevin Talley’s work on Daath‘s The Concealers. Although there are moments where he shows he’s a competent player, he’s clearly playing for the song more than anything and it’s good to see a metal drummer who understands the idea of pocket drumming so well.
As far as I can tell, the samples/keyboards were also composed by guitarist Noam and they’re really what gives Cocoon a bigger sense of character. They take some genuinely absurd detours in songs like “Dirge“, which contains both organ and cartoon sound effects, and more traditional approaches in “Ashes” and “My Perverse Disguise“, complete with strings and spoken word samples.
The only real let down is the vocals. If you’re gonna dabble in a sound that was so well defined before, you can’t really afford to fall short in any area, and it seems as if Sideblast settled for less and just comprised on a very straight forward death growl. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love death growls and probably 90% of my favourite vocalist are merely variations on that theme but in this case it just falls short of my expectations. I honestly have no idea what I would have preferred in its place, so maybe I’m just being overtly critical but I probably would have enjoyed them more if there was just a little bit of variation.
Finally, I don’t want to overstate the value of this album. It’s very good album – just not great. That said, it’s still one of the best death metal albums of 2011 so far. I’ve always abided by the ‘Third Album Rule’ which states that any great band reaching their 3rd record will make the best record of their career, nine times out of ten. The last two Sideblast albums have definitely had great promise so I would quite happily bet money on the follow up to Cocoon being mindblowing. If nothing else keep an eye out for their name in the future.
Sideblast’s Cocoon gets:
As a side note, the band belongs to an elite group of bands that can help inflate your metal ego, so check them out!