Sometimes you put on a record and the music cascading into your head gives you a jolt straight up your spine. That opening salvo is everything you want, pushing all the right buttons and getting your blood pumping, your heart racing, and your mind zeroed in on nothing but the music. Pure, unadulterated sound that fills you with elation, an exuberance you can barely contain. I have been overcome by this sensation many times as a music listener. It’s that uncommon state of absolute and unashamed excitement for what comes next. Unfortunately, what actually comes next doesn’t always live up to that initial rush, either by sheer sugar rush effect or simply because the remaining tracks on the album aren’t up to the standards set by the opening track. What it comes down to is that many albums are good, but few are great. It is a truth that music lovers have to accept every time that damned opening track teases us into blind, all-encompassing hope that the rest of the album will live up to the soaring heights of those first few, precious moments. Cormorant’s new album Diaspora gave me this feeling I just described. But in those first few incredible moments, I couldn’t help wondering whether this reaction would persist. What resulted over the next hour was a thoroughly remarkable journey that I have relived and revisited many times since then. TL;DR: This album is profoundly good.
For the uninitiated, Cormorant are a progressive, melodic black/death metal collective from San Francisco led originally by bassist and vocalist Arthur von Nagel. Diaspora is their fourth release, and if this record is going to be your first exposure to the band, I strongly recommend that you rectify that situation immediately. The band’s debut, Metazoa, is one of the better debut records to be released in any subgenre of metal over the past decade. Follow up Dwellings also rocked the metal world in a similar fashion, expounding upon the sounds and textures introduced by the band’s debut by creating some of the more intricate and expansive compositions to be heard in metal for some time. After the release of their sophomore record, expectations for Cormorant were incredibly high. But before the creation of their third album, von Nagel left the band to pursue outside career interests. With one of the band’s core members absent, the future of the band seemed in jeopardy. Adding bassist and vocalist Marcus Luscombe of Vengince and Cloakwheel to the mix, the band created their third and most controversial album, Earth Diver. A sonic departure from the band’s previous records, Earth Diver was the dawn of a new age for the band, marking a fairly noticeable transition phase in both musical approach and composition. Many questions were generated by Earth Diver regarding where the band would go next. The answer is into the stratosphere.
Diaspora is the culmination of a decade-long evolution for the band, and the results are nothing short of spectacular. Opening track “Preserved in Ash” kicks things off in a very different manner from its predecessor. Where Earth Diver began with an acoustic, folk instrumental that felt atmospheric and ethereal, Diaspora introduces us to its riches with a firm and definitive punch to the face. Brennan Kunkel’s drums erupt immediately in the opening seconds, introducing us to the record with force and power. Matt Solis and Nick Cohon’s guitars duel, charge, and burn through some uniformly excellent riffs while Luscombe’s thoroughly black metal delivery adds an extra dose of ferocity to the proceedings. While an outwardly aggressive track, “Preserved in Ash” doesn’t lack melody, which can be found aplenty throughout its ten-plus minute runtime. Working through several unique sections that complement one another quite well, the track never feels dull or repetitious, and maintains its epic scope without feeling aimless or lacking in vision. It’s a fantastic opener, which had me absolutely elated for what was to come.
Thankfully, the remainder of the album does not disappoint. Fifteen minute “Sentinel” relaxes the pace just a bit from that of the opening track, letting a syrupy guitar melody slowly make its presence felt. The skillful work of Solis and Cohon on this track is even more pronounced than in the album’s opening track, as the guitars are given center stage in the mix, highlighting the craftsmanship on full display here and throughout the record. The vocals show a healthy amount of variety here as well, bouncing from a blood curdling black metal screech to a more death metal-oriented growl. The track enriches the instrumental template of the album as well, introducing strings and horns to the mix while incorporating clean vocals in haunting and beautiful ways. The variety here is rich and makes each new section and portion of the album interesting in its own unique way. “The Devourer” continues the tradition of excellence, highlighting the bands death metal instincts more intensely, with riff passages that bob and weave around and through Kunkel’s nuanced blending of blast beats and more progressive drum passages. It’s a fantastic track that brings many of the bands skills to the forefront in easily recognizable and supremely effective ways.
However, none of these tracks can be considered the crown jewel of the record. That title belongs to album closer “Migration”, a nearly half-hour opus which is without question among the best songs the band has written. Rather than hard-hitting or ear-splitting, this track opens mournfully and slowly. Atmosphere swirls, flows, and dissipates as the guitars play gorgeously through a soundscape that feels like it could slip away entirely at any moment. The emotional impact of this opening is palpable, setting the stage for the various stages of grief, anger, and ecstasy this track guides the listener through until its triumphant and defiant conclusion, capping off one of the most utterly mesmerizing and fantastic listening experiences I have had with an album this year.
With this record, Cormorant have released not only their best album, but a defining statement of what metal can be. This is adventurous, epic, interesting and excellent music that is valuable outside of a contained moment or a single year. Unconfined by the conventions of the subgenres they occupy, this record stands as a defining statement of a band maximizing their potential to create the most thrilling and entrancing music of their career. Diaspora is one of the best albums released thus far this year, and one of the most thoroughly enjoyable trips I have had with an album in some time. Listen, and be transported.
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Diaspora will be released independently by the band on 8/11. It is available for pre-order here.