Children Of God's Fire
posted on 7/2005 By:
They say that with experience comes confidence, and Cipher is a textbook example. These metalcore experimentalists have been extant since the long-ago year of 1996; not only is that an unusually lengthy lifespan in a notoriously unstable genre, but it’s enough time for most bands to establish a degree of musical independence and aplomb. For Cipher, it’s a long enough stretch that the band felt comfortable taking a two-year leave of absence simply to work on songwriting. It’s also apparently imbued the band with sufficient audacity to release Children of God’s Fire, a 63-minute concept album (uh oh) and their first release since 2001. Spinning this album reveals that while their pretension was not entirely out of place, this sprawling, longwinded mess of a release is not the life-changing epic that Cipher was clearly attempting.
While Uprising’s promotion describes the band as similar to fellow East Coasters The Dillinger Escape Plan, a more accurate parallel for Cipher’s sound would be ambitious but defunct tech metallers Forever is Forgotten. Like Cipher, FiF was a fairly left-field band who had a proclivity for writing long, convoluted songs that mixed melodic hardcore, edgy technicality, and bouts of arpeggio-heavy ambient introspection. While their instrumental prowess and progressive tendencies were widely lauded, the band couldn’t seem to write a cohesive song to save their lives, and that same complaint can unfortunately also be applied to Cipher. They’ve certainly got the ideas going on; the dark melody of “Orphan’s Opus,” the powerful intro to “Heaven and Earth” and the uncomfortable stomp over which guest MF Doom spits his flow on “Verse Vs. the Virus” are proof enough that Cipher can produce clever and catchy song segments. However, there is no proof here whatsoever that they can write clever and catchy songs. The band’s attempt to blend stylistic elements into sweeping, complex compositions is significantly hampered by two chief difficulties. The first of these is the sheer quantity of parts present in many of these tracks; many of them, particularly the five-plus-minute ventures, feature far too many parts to ever gel into any definable structure and ultimately end up losing the listener. The second, and arguably more grievous issue, is that Cipher commit the cardinal metalcore sin: overreliance on breakdowns. Indeed, Children of God’s Fire will likely push the limits of patience for even the most dedicated pit ninjas. There are so many breakdowns on this album that it often feels as though it was written in half time and only occasionally sped up; to make matters worse, said breakdowns are rarely well set up by the scattershot structure and are not nearly interesting enough to hold water on their own.
Generic though Cipher may sound at this juncture, they do have a number of elements that are just out-there enough to set them aside from the metalcore mob, and the most obvious is rap-influenced vocalist Moe Mitchell. His lyrics are amongst the album’s highlights, and while the topics and ideas present therein are not new, his writing elucidates with an undeniably poetic and extremely articulate flair. Such cannot be said for Mitchell’s delivery; his mush-mouthed style calls to mind Efrem Schulz of Death By Stereo fame covering Candiria songs, and he’s not much more comprehensible than the traditional hardcore screamer. It’s an endearingly unusual effect when it works, and the a capella outtro of “Enduring Freedom Part One” displays Mitchell at his intense best. Predictably, though, the band can’t really integrate Mitchell fully into their already confused songs, and his voice sounds staccato and out of line with the instrumentation on most of the record.
As much as I’d like to extol Cipher for doing something recognizably different in metal, they haven’t quite earned it on Children of God’s Fire. Part of the problem is the level of expectation the group has set for themselves here; this is, after all, an hour long concept album that has been years in the making, but many of the songs sound almost jammed out. Where Cipher has all of their intellectual ducks in a row, the baffling songwriting here seems more like the unfocussed scrawlings of a young prodigy than the calculated musings of a band with nine years of experience under their belt. Cipher deserve recognition for swinging for the fences, but they would do well to remember that fouling one into the left field stands doesn’t qualify as a home run.
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