The Burial Tree
posted on 7/2011 By:
Let’s face it, the originality-versus-emulation debate will never, ever end. Some people prefer anything that thinks outside of the collective box even a bit, while others scream for band number 2,587 playing that glorious Sunlight Studios death metal sound. Efforts to fill one role or the other get so extreme that some bands confuse themselves and their identity in the process…
Enter Ana Kefr, a prog-melodeathcore-avant garde-thrash-whaddayahave quintet from Riverside, California that appears obsessed with appeasing both sides of the coin. On one hand, they toss a bunch of styles together that not many bands have tried to mix in an attempt to be something hitherto unheard. On the other, their influences are so clearly aped that their attempts at originality fall short. To be fair, failing at stark originality is not always a damning fault. Between the Buried and Me – one of Ana Kefr’s most obvious influences – has made a very respectable career in such a fashion. The key is the quality of compositions. On sophomore album The Burial Tree (II) (they want to make sure we know it’s their second), the band has crafted an occasionally brilliant but overwhelmingly frustrating listen that only further proves the point of the hour: quality songs should always come before overreaching ambition.
The first two tracks of The Burial Tree immediately expose Ana Kefr’s band-wide identity crisis and overwhelming lack of focus. “Ash-Shahid” is one cliché after another, a directionless mess featuring everything from out-of-nowhere deathcore breakdowns, half-tempo groove parts, overcome-the-odds metalcore vocal passages, and a “climax” that comes out of nowhere. “Emago” is basically a more compact version of the same, also adding some symphonic keys to the party with minimal effect. Both are hurt, as is the entire album, by overwrought vocals that throw the “less-is-more” book out the window (forced Robb Flynn, deathcore clichés, or harsh Tommy Rogers? Take your pick) and an over-compressed, unbalanced production that is devoid of space.
Then something interesting happens… Ana Kefr shows a different, much more focused side. “Monody” starts with some quiet saxophone before an emotive guitar line introduces a mash-up of many of the more popular prog acts (75 percent BTBAM with touches of recent Dream Theater and even bits of Opeth), while keeping a focus on the rumbling death metal side. It feels out of place after the first two songs (or rather, those feel out of place in reverse), but it also reveals that the band is capable of constructing actual songs. The production and vocals never get better, but with improved material these faults are less of a distraction.
The rest of The Burial Tree follows suit, taking turns delighting listeners and confounding them to no end. On the bad side, the middle of the album spends much of its time attempting a multi-song suite, which for the most part is just the band tossing everything at the wall to see what sticks. On the good side is “Parasite,” which flows through multiple sections to a sense of finality that is quite effective because the rest of the song actually worked to get to that point. The album almost redeems itself with the final one-two of “The Blackening” and “The Collector.” The prior hooks almost immediately with an infectious, minor-key descending riff, maintaining its hold through nearly eight minutes of shifts and progressions. The latter spends a good amount of its time in Ana Kefr’s “effective BTBAM worship” mode, and even tosses in some nice wailing female vocals reminiscent of Orphaned Land, but leaves a sour taste in the listener’s mouth with the final burst of deathcore, unnecessarily calling back the album’s first two tracks.
To be quite honest, I just can’t figure out Ana Kefr. I can figure out this album, in that it is more frustrating than it should be, but as for the band, they are a mystery. After several spins of The Burial Tree, one gets the impression that they’re a bit of a mystery to themselves as well. Everything about this album shows evidence of a band that refuses to trim the fat – both stylistically and in terms of length – because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. (The best 40 minutes of this would have been a respectable album; at an hour it is a laborious chore.) It truly sounds like every member of the band, with all of their various tastes, wanted to toss something into the mix, when they would have been better advised to keep their eyes on the prize. As stated above, this album shows flashes of brilliance, and the band is more than competent at the styles they choose to emulate, but until Ana Kefr gets the balls to do what is necessary and focus on the song instead of the band, they’ll be stuck in the land of the mediocre.
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