Monday, August 8, 2011

Blizzard At Sea - Invariance (EP) (2011)

Metal from Iowa. No. Not that masked band. Real metal from Iowa. Iowa City three piece Blizzard At Sea play a brand of bass heavy sludge that you might not be ready for. In the mood for some twirling guitar solos and operatic vocals? Then move along. Are you into a style of music classified as "djent?" Nothing to see here. Love the sultry voice of a female singer? Nope, not a chance. I think you get the picture. Good, heavy, working class metal, without a hint of irony or ego. This is "Invariance."

Deep, rich guitars open the albums first track, "Islands Of Stars." As the light tapping of cymbals begins, you can feel the pressure start to build. A single rumbling bass note echos and fades, before the band explodes into a furious wall of sound. Low, distorted bass lines clash with heavy handed drumming, opening the door for a chain of harsh screams. The tempo builds, with the solid rhythm section taking the lead. Guitar chords are played at a solid bass, moving up and down in tone, often feeling spacey. The single notes dart in and out of one another, with the solid pounding of kick and snare. Even in the more stripped down sections, the bass will shake you to your core. One last rush leads the track home, with the raspy screams leading the way.

A single guitar provided the opening melody in "Closed Universe," before it delves into a full band attack. Guitar and bass sync up together, becoming the backing for a series of harsh, coarse vocals. Moving up and down the scales, the guitar work winds away, switching back and forth between clean melodies and distorted chords. The airy vocals in the mid section are a nice change of pace, with the simple kick snare drum combinations keeping a solid beat throughout. The build up of guitars leads you back to a thrashing scream fest, with syncopated drum hits bringing it all together.

There is a definite post-metal sound in the early stages of "Simulacra," using the instrumentals to set a tone and story before the vocals kick in. Things slow down, with the bass sliding up and down the neck in support of the vocals. Things are slow and deliberate through the verse, while the guitars get more creative in the bridge. The solo is perfectly placed and executed, bringing some clean, progressive elements to the table. Drums, bass and guitar come together or a long build up, dialing it back for a darker melody. The instrumental work here would make "Crack The Skye" era Mastodon nod their heads. Even the bellowing cries are at home, leaving your neck soar and ears throbbing.

Track placement can breathe life into, or kill, an album. And the choice to finish things off with "Action At A Distance" was a good one. The light intro gives way to a low end rumble of drums and bass. The beat and flow of this early section could easily have been fleshed out to a nine minute instrumental of its own. But as the distortion hits with the force of a semi-truck, you see why this is the closer. The punch of the drums is undeniable, with every fill and roll sending your woofer into a state of shock. Each change of tempo and tone keeps you guessing, with no opportunity to lose focus. Stop and start, fast and slow, clean and dirty. You get a healthy dose of the entire scope of metal in this track, including a foray into clean, almost chant-like vocals. With all the chaos captured on this album, it is only fitting that they shift gears, and go out like a lamb.

The idea that metal must be complicated to be good was never right. It was the opinion of the elitists, who truly believed that solos and sweep picking defined the genre. Blizzard At Sea is another nail in the coffin of that theory. Good, hard-nosed instrumentals with the grit and force of a strong vocalist. Elitists need not bother. Fans of metal, "Invariance" is an album to add to your progressive sludge wish list.


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