Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Job for a Cowboy - Sun Eater (2014)

Man, where to even start with this one? Sun Eater, the lesser of two death metal-related albums to bear that title in 2014, and Job for a Cowboy's fourth full-length, is an exercise in variation and ability which at the very least sounds like it required a lot of effort in both its conception and execution. The question is, whether or not that was all worth it? My answer is very, very nearly. This is not a band that I'd ever accuse of having a 'personality', despite the quirky name, which many have already ranted over but at least isn't just another -tion, -tory, for you to file away under redundant. Once they shifted away from their insipid meathead deathcore roots into a more decidedly West Coast approximation of modern, semi-tech death which traced its lineage to all the 'right' acts in the field (Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse could all be heard in the controlled chaos), they seemed to translate into a more respectable, though still highly divisive act. I've enjoyed a few of their efforts (Demonocracy, Genesis, etc) to an extent, but greatness has ever eluded the Arizona quartet, and despite a very painstakingly wrought effort here, it still does...

Much like Fallujah transformed into a modern approximation of classic Cynic, with whirlwind technicality alternated against a more ambient/jazzy fusion, Job for a Cowboy have done the next best thing and decided to channel Atheist. Alright, not exactly, but a number of times I was sitting through this I kept getting Unquestionable Presence impressions, with some of the cleaner guitar patterns reminiscent also of Gorguts' Obscura. This is an acrobatic, eccentric slab of technical death and thrash metal which goes to great lengths to try and distinguish itself from its aesthetic ancestors, applying a modern studio context to their now antiquated, but once innovative ideas. But like so many other young death metal bands with athletic instrumental skill, it seems to rely a little too much on its own frenetic diversity and not on the strong songwriting chops that will make or break a death metal record throughout eternity. I'm not saying Sun Eater is void of a few gorgeous lead sequences, or riffs that perk my interest, but where The Flesh Prevails became this largely consistent pendulum of ethereal melodies and butchering brutality, this one just never develops much of an identity beyond the 'hey, wow, listen to that' mentality, where you're temporarily blown away by a band's proficiency set and not at any risk of remembering what they are actually setting down.

Oh, don't get me wrong, this one is an extent. Jonny Davy's gruesome snarls and growls are splattered all over the polished, punchy instrumentation like cattle organs in some spit-shined slaughterhouse whose death machines are fresh off the assembly line. But did I like them? Nah, they try really hard but accomplish little since he just can't contort them into interesting syllabic patterns. Danny Walker's guest drumming on this is technically brilliant but I found a few of the components like the snares and toms to feel a little too Tupperware at points. The bass is amazing in general, with lines highly similar to those used in prog thrash and prog death classics like Control and Resistance, Unquestionable Presence, Focus, etc, and there are parts of the album where I really felt like I could just listen to Nick Schendzielos isolated from the rest of the band and be happy. But at the same time, it's actually the Glassman/Sannicandro guitar duo which keeps the busiest, and offers us the most contrast and variation between the different levels of distorted excess. The album boasts a Jason Suecof production with Eyal Levi and several other engineers, so you know it's going to have that pristine, clinical 21st century death metal gloss that most of the 'forward thinking' acts strive towards, but then again that's just not anything new at this point.

Effort was extended towards the lyrics, also, but they end up the sort that feel like they're waxing all philosophical about the digital age, moral relativity; poetic and neatly scrawled imagery, sure, but for some reason it felt like a bunch of fancy words strung together which are ultimately as meaningless as taking a hearty poop. But I guess I could say that about almost any death metal band that dares transcend the serial killings, gore menageries and so forth. Job for a Cowboy tried, it's just such a fine line between an actual message of substance and mere pretentious twaddle. I felt like these were keeping one foot on either side of that line. And that's sort of symptomatic of Sun Eater in general: a Herculean attempt to progress and expand one further circumference beyond the burly BroStep brutality of the band's origins than even their last few albums dared. Nothing to scoff at, since tunes like "Buried Monuments" rank among their better compositions, but ultimately I just felt hollow after a few spins, like I was watching some flashy action movie which had a couple impressive stunts but no quotable one-liners like Commando or Terminator. This is more like the last four Jason Statham flicks you caught. Huge, kinetic, smarmy, lots of explosions and special effects, but more of a rental than a purchase.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (my relentless knocking is constantly ignored)

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