Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Amenta - Flesh Is Heir

Despite what some people like to say about industrial elements in metal, the music doesn't always attract acne-scarred mallgoths or their more extreme electro cousins. The Amenta is a good case in point where their debut Occasus was largely enjoyed by metal fans of both the technical, electro, and esoteric varieties. n0n was a mixed bag for some, but I enjoyed it for it's complex visual atmosphere. When listening to n0n I always imagined a sprawling mass of steel towers, walkways, smokestacks, acid rain, neon lights, and cybernetics ala the classic science fiction film Bladerunner.

Flesh Is Heir is the newest full-length from the Australian group, and it has them drawing elements from their Occasus sound and welding them onto the towers of the cyberpunk dystopia built on n0n. Flesh Is Heir is also the first full-length feature on which we can hear The Amenta's new bassist, drummer, and vocalist. On a side note, Diazonon (aka: David Haley, Joe Haley of Psycroptic's brother) used to do drums for The Amenta, and he's the original reason I became interested in the band. Now that he and a few other members checked out I had some reservations about Flesh Is Heir, although I did listen to their EP V01D which features some remixes of Occasus-era tracks with the new lineup. Nothing really stuck with me, and as time wore on I quickly forgot about V01D, further making me skeptical of Flesh Is Heir.

After a few listens I can safely say I'm not disappointed. Cain Cresall handles the vocal duties surprisingly well, and his restrained vocal style matches the imagery and vibe of the album. Like a chained beast he emits tormented wails that are haunting yet appropriately intelligible. He's especially potent on early tracks "Ego Ergo Sum" and the groovy "Teeth." There's a good bit of melody in his harsh vocals too, and the interplay between his different vocal lines is fun to hear. These are often fleeting and the vocal melodies serve to embellish the more complex melodies churned out by Erik Miehs. At times his playing borders on a technical death metal style: odd time signatures, large dissonant intervals, arpeggiated chords, and general tight playing are all in his repertoire. He isn't showing off, but his precise playing is (and has been) pretty impressive since Occasus.

The instrumentation serves to amplify the feeling of restrained chaos that seeps from Flesh Is Heir. Each track feels very tense yet never lets the tension go, building a ziggurat of emotional imbalance. I think this is what The Amenta were going for although I can see why some people would assume that the concepts behind certain tracks are unfinished ("The Argument" for example, which grows on me every time I listen to it). The occasional dark ambient or industrial track tends to relieve some of the stress ("A Womb Tone," the Blut Aus Nord-ian "Cell") but for the most part this tension is never resolved on the tracks which present the initial idea. "Obliterate's Prayer" is an exception and feels cathartic and a little bit sombre. It's one of the highlights of Flesh Is Heir for that reason, and while some would decry the later tracks like "Sewer" and "The Argument," they serve their purpose and are some of the higher tempo tracks on the album. "Tabula Rasa," as another cathartic track, is appropriately the closer.

The industrial sound of n0n is apparent on Flesh Is Heir and the production and mixing reflects that. The drum programming is solid, but I can't get behind the tinny sound of the bass drum. The guitars are edgy and the mastering for the most part is loud and clean. The occasional vocal effect is used for atmosphere but it never gets offensive or too cheesy. Overall it suits the atmosphere of the album, but the sound could be a bit more opaque. Both Occasus and n0n had a nice "dirty" sound to them that this album lacks.

The half-realized melodic vocal work was definitely the biggest surprise for me, but I can't say I'm against the idea. It fit Flesh Is Heir pretty damn well.

8.0 out of 10

1. Flesh Is Heir
2. Ego Ergo Sum
3. Teeth
4. A Womb Tone
5. Obliterate's Prayer
6. Sewer
7. The Argument
8. Cell
9. Disintegrate
10. A Palimpesest
11. Tabula Rasa

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