Cormorant – Earth Diver (self-released, 08 April 2014)
Well, sleep-walking my way to the bus this morning really felt like a reality check. Tuesday mornings are generally pretty tough anyway, but following a week and a half of vacation, it just makes it that much harder. To be clear, I’ve been back to work and back to “the real world” for several days now, but today I’m really feeling like “Oh yeah, I forgot how much going to work sucks, I could really use a vacation.”
Speaking of which, how was my vacation? It was nice, thanks for asking. I’ve learned that they don’t call Florida “The Sunshine State” for nothing, everything is way too bright there, and it was some god-awful temperature (well above 80° every single day — in the middle of March!!) and the humidity was nearly unbearable. But on the plus side, I did see all sorts of fascinating nature and wildlife — especially birds. There were birds everywhere, fancy exotic kinds I’d never seen outside of a zoo or even some I’d never seen anywhere. For example, the little guy pictured below, who I encountered in a mangrove swamp while hiking through a place called Bailey Tract on Sanibel Island.
That’s a double-crested cormorant — a bird that can often be seen floating on the surface like a duck, but then suddenly diving underneath and swimming like a penguin, until it manages to grab a fish with its long, sharply-hooked bill. Then it returns to the shore and flips the fish around in order to swallow it whole, then relaxes and digests its meal while letting its outspread wings dry in the sun. Pretty bad-ass.
So anyway, after having spied several of these critters during my trip, I naturally spent a lot of time thinking about the band Cormorant as well. You remember them, don’t you? I wrote a bit about each of their first three albums way back in 2011 when the third one (Dwellings) was released (here); then almost a year later I broke the news that their vocalist, principal lyricist, and bassist had decided to retire from music (here). Well since that time — nearly two years ago, actually — they put out a fourth album, and I realized that I never wrote anything about it to share with you people! So since i’ve got cormorants and Cormorant on the brain, I figured why not do that today?
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The first thing that’s immediately apparent about Earth Diver is that the artwork is done in a completely different style than Dwellings or Metazoa. The last two albums featured covers done in highly detailed multi-panel mural styles, while this newer one (which can be seen at the top of this post) is a much more abstract and conceptual. But fans of the band may be pleased to learn, this is just like one of those cases where a food company drastically alters its packaging and then has to include the reassuring label “New Look! Same Great Taste!”: despite the unfamiliar exterior appearance, inside is essentially the same product we know and love.
Outside of the two-and-a-half minute acoustic intro piece “Eris” (which leads into the intro of the first proper song “Daughter of Void”), this album contains seven songs ranging from six to eleven minutes in length; like the band’s two most recent albums, each of these is rooted in black metal but with strong progressive leanings throughout, and a plethora of other elements and influences sprinkled here and there. Several of the songs include acoustic or clean electric lead-ins, but then eventually turn in a more blackened-progressive, blackened-something, black-n-roll, or just straight black metal direction. But the band always keeps you guessing, with surprising twists and unexpected turns, like near the end of “Walking Sleep” where things begin creeping along with slower doomy riffs — a vibe which continues into the next song “The Pythia,” before transitioning through a bouncy “Immigrant Song” rhythm into a more traditional black metal style, and then back again.
Some other highlights include “Broken Circle” which builds upon a dreamy, slow psychedelia, rather Pink Floyd-y, then explodes into more blackened territory, much like Inter Arma does so well. “Mark the Trail” also starts out with a dreamlike quality, but this song actually gives off more of an Alice in Chains (particularly their self-titled album) flavor, between the guitar tone (and rhythm) and the vocal harmonies used here.
Speaking of the vocals, a wide range of vocal styles are employed on the album, from blackened rasps to death growls to hardcore-esque shouts, plus melodic clean vocals with two or three part harmonies, and often two or three of these are used at the same time in various combinations. Pulling it all together, closing track “A Sovereign Act” adds in some call-and-response between the blackened and the shouted vocal parts (a bit like the technique Black Tusk would frequently use), among some more harmonic bits, followed by some really deep death-doom-style bellows. So to make a long story short, any concern over this band being able to continue after experiencing a shake-up of its line-up would be completely unfounded, as this album represents the same top-notch quality progressive-blackened-metal we’ve come to expect from Cormorant.
You can buy a copy of Earth Diver on CD directly from the band right here, where you can also take advantage of several special packages, including one with all four of the band’s CDs for one low price! Or for those who prefer, you can download the album via the Bandcamp player below — you can pay whatever price you choose (including free):
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