Album Review: Neaera - Ours Is The Storm
Death metal bands are at a disadvantage before I hear a single note of their music. Just by the nature of what they play, it's extremely difficult for any of them to stand out from the pack. Unlike every other genre, where voices and tones vary wildly, death metal is confined to a set of standards that make everyone sound more or less the same. While that's great for fans who are immersed in the music, and can pick out those small differences and magnify them, it leaves people like me weary from listening to album after album, band after band, that all blend together.
Neaera, aside from having a name that's more difficult to spell correctly, doesn't do anything to distinguish themselves from any of the hundred other death metal bands I've had to listen to. The guitars play the same slightly fuzzy mix of chugging and tremolo picked riffs, while the vocals split the difference between the usual low growl and the higher-pitched screaming bands like Children Of Bodom made standard. There is, quite literally, nothing about Neaera to define who they are outside the confined of other bands.
That being said, none of that means what they do is bad. Groundbreaking is overrated, and plenty of bands have been less than original while still playing great music. For their part, Neaera are a solid death metal band. Their riffs lack the sharp edge Entombed or Carcass brought to the table, and the vocals aren't as memorable as Edge Of Sanity was capable of, but they do a fine job of plowing their way through an album of standard-issue death metal. The problem is that there's so much music that can be described the same way, it's not enough to be merely good.
A song like “Decolonize The Mind” has good ideas in it. There's a few interesting riffs, and a vocal that tries to play around with convention, but none of it comes together in the way a song should. Once the song is done and you try to remember what you've just heard, it's not easy to recall the details. Neaera falls into that category of music that's fine while you're listening to it, but utterly forgettable when you aren't staring at the album cover to remind you what's going on.
I don't mean to be harsh, but “Ours Is The Storm” falls victim to a problem I see with a lot of the music that comes across my desk. If you're playing music that fits snugly into a long-standing mold, you need to up the ante. Average music following a new sound is one thing, but when there are decades worth of music doing the same thing you are, breaking through the fatigue of familiarity is impossible without material of the highest order.
“Ours Is The Storm” is not an album that can live up to that kind of pressure. It's a perfectly fine death metal album, but there's no song, no moment that's going to reach out and embed itself in your mind. Everything comes and goes with professional skill, but there aren't any hooks, and the few times the band tries to push one across, it's done with the shrillest screaming vocal that is simply unpleasant to sit through. I've wondered aloud before, “if I don't want someone standing next to me to scream in my ear, why would I want a band to?”
“My Night Is Starless” answers that question. The incessant screaming makes the first try at a hook impossible to grasp, and then things slow down just a bit, the vocals fall into a more conventional growl, and the bit of melody comes together for the first time. A little bit of restraint goes a long way.
Ultimately, “Ours Is The Storm” is a death metal fan's death metal album. They will find something to enjoy, but for the rest of us who only know the classics, sitting through the whole of this will be a chore.