In the interest of full disclosure I will begin with the admission that my irrationally judgmental side when it comes to music has meant that not many bands that can be in any way categorized with the tag ‘death’ have managed to hold my attention or impress me overly. So when the press kit that came with Indiana based band The Room Colored Charlatan’s new album ‘Primitives’ described them as “progressive death metal mavericks” I approached with a degree of trepidation, but an open mind. Well I should not have worried as this is a fine album and is thankfully devoid of many of the elements that have turned me off much of the ‘deathy’ stuff previously – few self-indulgent solos, tedious vocals or relentlessly monotonous blast beats are found here, instead there is a diverse and interesting mix of sounds and ideas that kept my attention throughout.
Make no mistake this album is heavy, at times crushingly so, but there is abundant doses of texture, depth and a surprising amount of melody to be found amongst the blows of the metaphorical musical hammer. There is plenty technical ability on show whilst rarely resorting to my least favorite thing in music – long twiddling, wanky “look at me” guitar solos. The sonic assault is tempered with tempo changes and peppered with rollicking riffs. The playing is consistently excellent across all members and the inclusion of electronic elements in the sound adds to the power and intensity without overwhelming the more organic components of the glorious commotion.
The album begins with ‘Instinct’, its subtle guitar strains and ominous ambient electronic noise grow slowly before being suddenly interrupted by a violently guttural roar that shakes the songs foundations and serves as a brutal statement of intent. The track then ebbs & flows in and out of technical onslaught and riffery in a manner which proves typical of the schizophrenic (in a good way) style of the rest of the album – heavy passages interspersed with melodic parts and overlaid with technical guitar interplay and containing many deviations from anything resembling traditional song structure.
‘Instinct’ proves to be both a jarring introduction and promising beginning. It segues straight into the second song ‘Native Habitat’ which shows a welcome willingness to experiment and diversify, the instrumental tune serves as a break from the hammering of the vocals present on the rest of Primitives, a relatively short and sweet melodious interlude before the pummeling begins again in earnest – I didn’t even mind the guitar swinging perilously close to “lead break territory”.
Album highlights are plentiful and tracks ‘Apex Predator’ and ‘Questions Of Origin’ rank highest due to their unanticipated twists and in the case of the former the irrepressible groove. I am a sucker for heavy chunk and groove, even among all the technical proficiency on display throughout there is something to be said for the pleasing nature of a basic pounding rhythm and a catchy as fuck riff that forces me to nod my head in furious approval. Pulling this off without resorting to stuffing the songs with generic breakdowns or relying heavily on hooks is a plus in my book.
The songs are packed with ideas and often take unforeseen changes in direction, but thankfully these rarely seem forced, and in fact serve to grab and hold my attention more than confuse or distract from the structure of the song. There may be a slight lack of variety among the vocals – the occasional introduction of a second layer – sometimes another screamer and occasionally clean -does alleviate this somewhat but as I enjoy the tone and powerful delivery of the main vocals I was not particularly put off by the slight sameness that creeps in upon repeated listens. Plus the musical variety within each track means there is never really long enough to be bored by any similarity of vocal delivery. They are; for the most part, relatively complex compositions and there is plenty going on with the layers of sounds often build to unconventional crescendos or dropping into awesome abysses of restrained power, the writing shows a maturity that means the album should hold most listener’s attention and portends toward the great promise for this band’s future.
The production is very crisp and the fact the album is completely self-produced and recorded in the band’s own studio makes that fact extra impressive. The kind of DIY ethos it shows is appealing to the old school punk lover in me and I respect a band that takes that kind of control. The fact it hasn’t adversely affected the quality of their output is a testament to their talents and obvious attention to detail.
Whilst it would possible to criticize The Room Colored Charlatan as occasionally slightly derivative, and that may be valid in parts, I feel Primitive represents the divergence of several styles and influences – elements djent, technical metal, death metal and hefty doses of prog make this an original enough and interesting journey that behoves a bright horizon for these guys. If you like it heavy and don’t mind being challenged then I strongly suggest you check them out.