What Stirs Within
posted on 12/2007 By:
Whether Irish metallers Era Vulgaris’ timing for the release of their debut album is a shrewd marketing device (following a high-profile Queens of the Stone Age record of the same name), a coincidence or something else altogether is up for debate. Whatever the case, one has to think that these days, when the average headbanger hears “Era Vulgaris,” Irish prog-metal isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Regardless, Era Vulgaris is here, and from the look of things they could stick around for a while. As an unsigned four-piece in Dublin, the band created its own label to release What Stirs Within and inked a distribution deal with Plastic Head/Code 7 in the UK as a result. Now the band has set up shop in merry old England and while it is less a drummer and a guitarist (Jim Kent and Chris Con left the band), the two remaining members are poised to tour Britain in support of their debut.
But what of the album?
To label Era Vulgaris and What Stirs Within strictly progressive metal would not do them justice. The band incorporates elements of thrash, hardcore, punk and experimental jazz to create a sound that is vastly different from anything on the market today. They use complex song structures and an air of youthful ambition that calls to mind the raw feel of early ‘80s thrash recordings. But because they are so distinctive, drawing specific comparisons to other bands would be tricky, if not unwise.
Frontman Chris Rob both sings and screams on the album, and if anything here takes getting used to, it’s the vocals. His singing is floaty, trancelike – almost chanting, while the screaming mixes equal parts straight-up metal, punk and hardcore. The production on the album – the vocals in particular – is understandably low-rent, which can be distracting. After a few listens, however, the vocals recede behind the superior and more interesting instrumentation.
In terms of the compositions, expect plodding, meandering, sometimes sludgy songs with a tendency toward technical solos, jazzy interludes and long runtimes. Unfortunately, much of the meandering is done repetitively, and with song lengths averaging about eight minutes, it is sometimes hard to sit through bar after familiar bar awaiting the next twist. While some of the tracks are dull in this way, others like “Limb From Limb,” “Just Ask Yourself” and the 11-minute instrumental “Imram” are intriguing the whole way through.
What Stirs Within is a hard disc to judge. While its got the originality that is so often lacking in metal, it also struggles with underproduction. And while the musicians demonstrate considerable ability, their shining moments compete with drawn out periods of monotony. If you’re a fiend for inventive, complex metal this could be worth a listen, but for the majority of metal fans, Era Vulgaris needs some time to mature. All the signs of potential are here, but the disc itself will likely be seen as a stepping stone rather than a tone-setting debut.
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