posted on 10/2011 By:
The nearly five year gap between Alarum's Fluid Motion and Eventuality--respectively their debut and 2004 follow up on Willowtip Records--did a couple of weird things to the brains of people who buy metal albums. For one, the delay between LPs ensured that its accompanying press release would be liberally seasoned with phrases like "long awaited" and "much anticipated." Which, should you remember 1999 through 2003 correctly, is just rank hyperbole. Second--and this is the case with most less-than-prolific acts--the band developed a mystique. Though they had produced naught but a demo in all in those intervening years, Alarum had won a not-entirely-deserved reputation as the next Atheist, Death, Cynic, et cetera. So, with gray matter properly screwed with by both time and anticipation, tech-death enthusiasts couldn't help but be let down by Eventuality, an album equipped with hardly anticipated melodic vocals, hooks and hard-rock debts.
With seven years between Eventuality and their latest, Natural Causes, it's important for acute listeners to remind themselves of what Alarum actually is. That means dropping those expectations of a tech-death masterpiece on par with Human / Unquestionable Presence. But, and here's the really cool part, it also means preparing for something intrepid, and for the most part, pretty damn good.
Natural Causes bears witness to Alarum honing their songwriting chops and producing some of their tightest compositions to date. What's most impressive about Alarum in 2011 is how responsibly the players wield their technical prowess. At their best, the band pens compositionally straightforward and hooky thrashers and inform them with their meticulously honed and delightfully djanky chops. Alarum masterfully exploits this formula on "For New Creation" and "Natural Causes," two tracks that reward on first listen and increasingly pay off on repeated ones. What's particularly satisfying about both tracks is that the subtlety with which the trio plies their trade almost obscures just how unrelentingly weird they get. The main riff of "For New Creation" sneaks in all sort of weird slides and melodic counterpoints that can get lost should the listener chose to simply bask in the track's overarching pleasures.
All this is not to say that that the players don't get a little reckless with the tech-hammer. They do, and on occasion, they swing it well. "Non Linear Parallels" is a pipe-bomb filled with syringes of dubious extraction and smashed up Coroner CDs. Mark Pelfreyman's bass fights for air inside the dense packaging created by Mark Evans’ claustrophobic riffing. When the bass finally finds purchase, it swaggers all over the proceedings with a lumbering knuckle-dragger of a riff that stands in stark defiance of everything the track had spent 2:30 building. Conflict, meet resolution.
Where Alarum falters, and occasionally they do, is in their attempts to mingle technical tendencies with hook-heavy rock. Through "Shifting Skies Like Nothing" makes an attempt at traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, it's sort of spoiled by the employment of a riff that sounds like it's too complex to be rendered with any sort of heft. You can literally feel the band wrestling with this track as it plays out, but not in a deliberate Uphill Battle sort of way. The latter half of the album may take a little more untying than I'm willing to give it, as well, as aside from the martial and classically influenced instrumental "Sensory Endeavor," the rear-end of Natural Causes doles out challenges in disproportionate measure to rewards.
Natural Causes is ultimately worth hearing due to the variety of ways it challenges you to listen to it. It alternately offers superficial pleasures and hard-earned payoffs--sometimes simultaneously. It's competently produced, and when the players really get humming, ferociously executed. The latter half may require more work than it's really worth, but persistent listeners could very well disprove that claim. With few bands managing to sound so confidently like themselves as Alarum does, Natural Causes is a gamble well worth taking for fans of technical music.
Register to post comments.