Released: 2007, Metal Blade
“Metalcore but good!”...would be my blurb for this band. This is the way metalcore should be played, taking the best riffs and melodies from good melodic death metal and then melding it with the hardcore sensibilities and aggression. This young band from Germany has seriously done itself proud with their third release in three years, ARMAMENTARIUM. Contrast this with my take on Neaera’s labelmates Machinemade God this month, who have just released their own metalcore offering MASKED.
There is a lot to absorb on ARMAMENTARIUM. What strikes the listener first is the heaviness and almost epicness of the production. What strikes you next is how fresh and amazingly novel the riffs and melodies are, thus dispelling the usually-justified accusation of “recycled Gothenburg” often levelled at metalcore bands. What strikes you then (there are a lot of strikes on this very good record) is how the band pays tribute to so many Swedish bands in their music. I seriously hear a lot of Amon Amarth (try telling me you don’t hear shades of the famous twin-attack tremolo picking favoured by Olli and Johan S on tracks like “Armamentarium”), At the Gates and Arch Enemy in Neaera’s music. What also strikes you is on more than a couple of songs, the band ditches the Gothenburg influences and goes straight out brutal crushing death metal!
Being no great fan of hardcore and screamo vocals, I have to say however that Neaera’s singer Benny Hilleke packs a helluva punch. He mainly sticks to the controlled violent screams, sounding like a less-abrasive Mille Petrozza at times, and at other times, he sounds like Dani Filth!!! Once in a while, he throws in a couple of good solid death growls, which while sounding slightly overproduced leaves me in no doubt that a live gig with these guys would be an experience. He also doesn’t need to rely on gang choruses to create an illusion of power.
There is that “raise-your-fist-and-bang-your-head” quality to their music that I find myself missing more and more on new releases these days. There is enough complexity to keep the listener interested. On my first listen, as I normally do with other albums I review, I keep it as background music while doing something else, surfing or studying or eating. However with ARMAMENTARIUM, I actually stopped whatever I was doing to give it a proper listen. On second and third listens, I find myself enjoying this band more and more. If I had a single complaint, it’s that towards the end it drags on a little (case in point: the last track “Liberation” clocks in at 7 and a half minutes long, is midtempo and slightly uninteresting) and starts sounding alike, but that’s probably just me being picky.
It’s one non-stop aural assault on ARMAMENTARIUM. The pace hardly ever lets up – if there is a slight drop in pace, it’s to fit in a good introspective melodic break, and then the tremolo picking and double kicking come crashing back in again. Standout tracks are the aforementioned “Armamentarium” and “Escape From Escapism”, simply for their progressiveness. If the production on “Mutiny of Untamed Minds” were slightly less thick and epic, this would be a classic death metal intro with the atonal guitars, stuttering rhythms and great double bass work. Ditto for “Harbinger” and “The Orphaning”, good traditional death metal tracks.
Neaera bring together a lot of good elements of metal together into this neat little package. They bring a great understanding of what made Gothenburg the most exciting “new wave in X metal” for a while in the mid-90s, and more importantly, they understand why the scene turned turgid, commercial and over-populated. They understand and respect the death and thrash roots of Gothenburg, and bring them to the fore here. Finally, in Benny, they bring the aggression and pained shrieks of the hardcore singing tradition, the scream-til-your-lungs-burst ethos. I really don’t think I can find much wrong with this album, and it’ll be in my player for more than a few more weeks.
PS: What raised this album by a whole 0.5 is the fact that there are nil (count them: NIL!!) instances of clean singing here. Awesome!