Cóndor – Sangreal
Location: Bogotá, Colombia
Label: Gomorrah Records
It’s always great to get a record from a band that is difficult to categorize neatly in a particular subgenre. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering what the next movement in each song will song. Sangreal, the latest release from Cóndor, for instance, could be considered death/doom, melodic death metal, and even gothic metal, all at the same time. You could even argue that there are elements of atmospheric black metal, as some sections get speedy and dark enough to fit the bill.
Whether it’s a slow, crushing section, melodic singing over a fast guitar riff, or folk-infused acoustic guitar picking, Sangreal has one common thread, and that is a seriously gloomy, melancholic atmosphere. The slow sections remind me of Cemetary, or early My Dying Bride, with crunchy, but melodic guitar riffs that have a mournful, dirge-like quality. The vocals are guttural and demonic, yet they still manage to match the utter despair that the music creates, particularly on tracks like “Se Extienden Las Sombras” and “El árbol de la muerte.” The second of the two songs in particular has several time-changes, with fast, brutal death metal moments that give way to eerie, almost ponderous sounding death/doom.
There’s a lot to like on Sangreal, and Cóndor show a lot of promise, considering they’ve only been a band for roughly three years. There are a couple of rough edges, particularly some of the transitions on opening track/title track, “Sangreal,” with the clean vocals sounding a little out of place, and a couple of slightly out of tune notes here and there. The mixing and mastering of the record as a whole is fairly raw, and the guitars come out a little canned at times, but overall, the raw production actually gives Sangreal a unique atmosphere, reminiscent of early black metal. Ultimately, this is a pretty great record, with some crushingly heavy and genuinely gloomy tones throughout, and leaves me wanting more.
Exist Immortal – Breathe
Location: London, England
Label: Primordial Records
Balancing technical ability and good songwriting isn’t always the easiest part of making a record for any band. When you’re a very gifted musician, it seems the instinctive thing to do is to show off that ability, and fit as many notes into as few bars as possible, showing how quickly you can change time signatures. While this makes for a compelling listening session as a musician, casual music fans usually want something a little easier to digest, something with a little more substance. London’s Exist Immortal are one of those rare bands that have managed to strike that difficult balance, as can be heard on their brand new full-length, Breathe.
The first thing that stands out about Breathe is the delicate balance between heavy, technical djent (there’s definitely a Meshuggah vibe at times) and soaring melodies. The vocals are the most immediate example, with just as much singing vocals in each song as there are Jens Kidman-esque guttural yells. The guitars are also melodic, with lots of delay and reverb effects added to the clean guitar bits that soar over the crunchy, yet still melodic riffs. The guitars employ enough arpeggios and sweep-picking to feature in an Yngwie Malmsteen wet dream, yet manage to not come off as overindulgent; melody and good song craft are not forsaken for technical ability on Breathe.
Exist Immortal are certainly one of the more melodic bands in the progressive metal/djent/whatever you want to call it scene, but there are some pretty heavy tunes in the mix as well, with the crushing “Invisible Lines” being a great example. Mathy breakdowns and yelled vocals are coupled with beautiful, e-bowed guitar bits and melodic vocals, which have the effect of covering the entire range of human emotion in one song. “Lucid” is another standout track, with some of the most technical lead-guitar bits, mid-tempo pacing, and slightly melancholy tone. The mixing and mastering give everything a nice, glossy sheen, with crystal clear tone, and plenty of overdubs, making it one of those albums that reveal something new with each listen. Exist Immortal write the kind of music that both tech-junkies AND casual listeners can enjoy at the same time, managing to mix cerebral and emotional music that captivates you at once. Fans of the heavier side of this particular niche in modern metal might find Breathe a little too pretty at times, but if you’re looking for something a bit more melodic between Meshuggah records, this might be just what the doctor ordered.