Released: 2014, Self-released
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
When bassist/lyricist/frontman Arthur von Nagel, who essentially was the embodiment of California cult favorites Cormorant, left to work in the video game industry in 2012, most folks probably assumed that that was it for the band. But the three remaining members – guitarists Nick Cohon and Matt Solis and drummer Brennan Kunkel – opted to soldier, with von Nagel's blessing.
With new bassist/vocalist Marcus Luscombe in tow, the fearsomely independent group, which had self-released both of their previous albums, recorded their third full-length after a crowd-funding campaign through Indiegogo. Once again self-released, Earth Diver emerged in early April and, if nothing else, proved there is plenty of inspiration, vitality and fire left in Cormorant even with their one-time leader.
The band's progressive black/death metal sound remains largely unchanged – though it's perhaps a bit leaner and meaner this time around, despite the spaghetti western-like acoustic track”Eris” that opens the album. Yet as it segues into “Daughter of Void,” Luscombe's banshee howl loudly announces an abrupt about-face and the band are off to the races in a swirling mass of black metal tumult.
Cormorant's approach recalls Norway's Enslaved – though largely without the nod to Pink Floyd. They offer a fluid mix of bombast and fury played with limber progressive dexterity and countered by lush melodic passages with clean-sung vocals and harmonies that mesh surprisingly well and don't at all seem like mere contrivances.
The band's take on black metal is raw, traditionally rooted and unadorned by orchestral hokum, which makes the progressive breadth of the material – everything here, save for “Eris” is six minutes-plus – easier to grab hold of even as something as tempestuous as “Waking Sleep” swings you this way and that. The sound is natural and pure, even if what they do with it is a rather unconventional.
And it's the genuineness Cormorant bring to the table that is perhaps their biggest strength. U.S. black metal is awash in hipsters and wannabes these days, yet few have the chops, guile or heart of these guys – with or without their former frontman.