Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blizzard At Sea - Individuation (EP) (2012)

Blizzard At Sea might be one of the best kept secrets of American metal. And while it wholly unfortunate, it is all about to change. After their first album, 2011's "Invariance," made the rounds, the trail of destruction it left behind was a sign of things to come. The question has never been if this Iowa city three piece would create a masterpiece, but when. And as strong as they were, few would have thought little over a year later, the day would arrive. With the release of their new album, "Individuation," they are no longer a post-sludge band on the rise. Woven through the 35 minutes of new material is a mastery of all things metal, and a statement that their time is now.

In the opening moments of "Accelerating Returns," you find a growing maturity, an ability to exercise restraint without compromising. There is an atmospheric quality to the guitar riffs, one that helps to build and craft a lasting melody in your head. But as the rolling of toms comes through, the imminent explosion is upon you. Without fail, the distortion blasts through, followed by a destructive low end. The punishing vocals that formed the foundation in their earlier effort are back, but with an more refined nature. Everything has a perfectly thin coat of polish on it, from the production work on  the drums, to the rattling bass lines. But don't take that to mean that the aggressive tones and violence have left. The short melodic passages are merely fuel for the flames, igniting with a single downstroke and crushing chord. Even more staggering than the music itself is the way it seems to bend space and time, with a near thirteen minute play time coming and going in what seems to be a blink of an eye. The outro portion, for all the sound and fury, may be the most complete blitz of metal instrumental you will find on a sludge album this year.

Offsetting the more dense work, "The Technological Singularity" is the necessary lateral movement, with both guitarist Steven Douglas Ross and bassist Jesse Cohen laying down some of the more vicious screams the album has to offer. The added depth comes from not only the dual voices, but from a booming drum kit that fills every available hole with a roll, a kick, or a crashing cymbal. A brilliantly written and executed stop inhabits the middle portion, with all going silent. Note by note, the guitar reenters, flanked by the building bass line. Just when you think you have an extended crescendo at work, the sky drops on your head, with new drummer Pat Took coming back with a kick sound that has every chance of rattling your brain loose. It is when all three members come together in a single lock step attack that the band are at their best. The outro here is the perfect example, with both bass and guitar darting up and down the scales together, in a flash of pure musicianship.

The closing track, a nearly twenty minute opus titled "Longevity," could be packaged and sold as the how-to for post metal and sludge. But not only does this three piece touch on all of the sub woofer rattling tenets of the aforementioned genres, but they dabble in progressive elements, sometimes bringing to mind the more bass driven works of Tool. At nearly three minutes in, a bass and guitar combination is all you have gotten, and there won't be a second where you regret it. But as the percussion enters, and you perhaps expect the first shots fired, you get a little surprise. Clean vocals, without a trace of anger or rage, float through the air, in a startling change of pace. Even more than that, each subsequent verse is beautifully performed, with an amazing focus on melody and harmony.

There is a crispness to everything going on, whether that be due to flawless production, or just a band that has begun to reach their musical apex. If your head hasn't moved to this point, it surely will. Hidden in the riffs and bass work is something intrinsically catchy, a style and tempo that may seem familiar at times, and completely new at others. That ability to blend old and new is what sets this track apart from others, including the vocal changes. Even when the coarse screams return, they are given an added boost, thanks to the contrast now at play. All three members are at their level best here, forming a sonic bulldozer, but one that is as much finesse as it is power. Somehow they take a airy buildup and push it head first into a gritty vocal performance, and make it not only make sense, but allow it to thrive. Every kick drum, every roll, every pluck of a bass string does nothing but expand the sound. And unlike so many tracks of this length and scope, there isn't a point where you think it should be over, and find yourself bothered that it isn't. Every second has a purpose, and every movement is a necessary part of things, up to and including the last notes of the album.

The guys of Blizzard At Sea aren't worried about the old "sophomore slump." Not only do they capture all of the heaviness of modern American metal, but they take the next logical step in the evolution of their own sound. They manage to balance out the raw power of "Invariance" with a smoother finish. Every melody is catchier, every blast beat is more bruising, and each and every guitar chord blows you back in your seat. This is a post-sludge style of music that is as versatile as it is rewarding. And while it only took a year to go from debut to masterpiece, these three towering tracks have a lifetime worth of blood, sweat and tears sprinkled throughout. They have now come to define "Individuation," even more than the album defines them.


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