Friday 22 March 2019

Drowning Ares - Nocturna (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Metalcore
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Mar 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | YouTube

I like Drowning Ares for reasons far beyond the music. For one, they sent me a copy of this EP, which is released next Friday, for review. I'm never not going to like free music unless Justin Bieber reaches out too. The line-up on their Bandcamp page lists their drummer as Magneto (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, X-Men, Astonishing Avengers), so someone should keep a close eye on John Davidson. Oh, and the Artists We Also Like section on their Facebook page starts and ends with Wyld Stallyns. This band are clearly going to be fun, whatever their music sounds like.

And it sounds pretty good. They're all experienced musicians in the metal scene in northern Virginia, each with a number of other bands behind them, so it's not surprising that the musicianship is top notch. They've clearly rehearsed a lot too, because they're very comfortable with each other. The tempo changes a lot on this EP and, even with only six songs, it's longer than some full albums (hello, Reign in Blood), so there's a lot of it.

They play progressive metalcore, which means that it's loud and aggressive and the vocals are shouty but it's far more musically complex than hardcore ever gets. Easily my favourite track here is Beyond the Reach of Time and Reason, which beyond having a title we might expect from Dream Theater, is happy to attempt being as complex too, albeit within the bounds of four and a half minutes.

It does a particularly great job at contrasting the two vocalists. I don't know which is which, other than the pair are Navid Rashid and Jae Curtis, but one shouts in the usual harsh voice, though not outrageously so unless there's a good reason, while the other is cleaner with just a slight edge. The introspective mid-section allows them both to explore more than merely one style each too, with a neat escalation to ramp back up. There's a lot going on in this song and it's all interesting.

My other favourite is the closer, the six minute Nocturna (there's an odd ending tacked on to make it look like eight), because this rumbles on into being with suitable menace and gradually builds in aggression through clear sections, one of which features a vocal line that goes far beyond the usual shouting to almost reach black metal shrieks. Again, those different vocal styles weave in and out of each other in duet style, which is always more interesting than either of them alone.

I don't want to go on about the vocals, because the music behind them is a highlight on its own. With Jae Curtis restricted to a microphone, there's a mere trio generating this busy noise: Rashid on guitar, Patrick Larson on bass and John Davidson on drums. That's impressive but it also explains why there aren't more solos going on here. This is no nonsense stuff.

It feels a little more no nonsense too because each song runs into the next so it never seems like the band stop for the entire half an hour. That aids the aggressive feel. The catch to that is that it becomes harder for us to differentiate the individual songs, each of which follows the same sort of tone. If there's a downside here, it's the general inability of the tracks to stand out from each other. They all sound good but they mostly sound similar.

Frankly, the worst thing about this EP is its cover, which is minimalistic and generic, two adjectives that don't accurately describe the music to be found within. But hey, when the worst thing to say about music is what art sits on its cover, the band have to be doing a good job.

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