As the lines between the many different subgenres in extreme music continue to blur, lately it’s been those bands that choose to incorporate different styles into their music that end up generating the most buzz. Granted, traditionalism is, and has always been a big part of heavy metal, but although it’s good to have a bunch of acts we can rely on for some skull-crushing doom, bludgeoning death metal, or simple, All-American metalcore, it’s the mavericks out there trying to test the limits of this kind of music who are most responsible for the genre’s continuing evolution, and ultimately, provide us with the most thrills. Young bands, such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, and Cursed all perform music that, while fitting neatly under the all-encompassing metal umbrella, are impossible to stick into any single subcategory whatsoever, and consequently, it’s no surprise that these bands are among the best the metal world has to offer.
Sweden remains one of the world leaders in cutting-edge metal music, but even there, despite the proficiency of Opeth, In Flames, Nasum, and Arch Enemy, there are not nearly as many prominent bands who display the same kind of audacity as their North American counterparts. It appears that’s all going to change quickly, though, thanks to Gothenburg’s Burst, who, after a long formative period, have finally hit their stride, and have provided us with one of the finest metal releases of 2006 thus far.
Of course, when you have a band comprised of a death metal aficionado, a black metal fan, a devotee of ‘80s American thrash, and the former bassist from grind legends Nasum, you’ll probably wind up with some rather eclectic results. Formed in 1993, it wasn’t until 2001’s Conquest: Writhe that all the ingredients began to gel, and on the excellent Prey on Life, released two years later (their first for American label Relapse), people started paying serious attention to the quintet, the album featuring Isis-style waves of soaring, melodic guitars meshing with Linus Jäkerskog’s hardcore screams, as the band executed deft tempo shifts much like Mastodon. On the new record, Origo, however, Burst have made the leap from promising metal act to one of the genre’s brightest young talents, making the acclaimed Prey on Life sound two-dimensional in the process.
Complex, yet completely accessible (the hallmark of any good progressive metal album), Origo boasts a much more stylistically rich sound, not to mention some punchy yet refined production courtesy Fredrik Reinedahl (In Flames) and Henryk Lipp (Kent), as the band draw from a wide musical palette, yet at the same time displays restraint, something rare in extreme music. Nowhere is this more evident than on the opening track “Where the Wave Broke”, which is constructed around a simple, yet boldly un-metal riff that blends post punk cool with Converge-like hardcore aggression. The Isis influence remains strong in places, especially on the beautifully melancholy “The Immateria”, as waves of distortion commingle with thunderous, tribal percussion, but Burst’s songs remain much more compact than those of Isis, and the band employs melodic vocals especially well, with guitarist Robert Reinholdz handling the “clean” singing, best exemplified in “The Immateria”’s final movement. The doubletime fury of “Slave Emotion” begins with moody black metal chords in the verses, only to shift to death metal staccato when the chorus rolls along, while “Flight’s End” is dominated by a descending central riff that’s more doom-inspired, and “Homebound” juxtaposes the sound of Neurosis’s Through Silver in Blood with sumptuous melodies that eventually make the song sound more optimistic than gloomy.
Origo pulls out all the stops during its final third, achieving an Opeth-like grandeur, first with the instrumental “It Comes Into View”, as organ underscores chiming guitars, slide guitar harmonies mesh with acoustic guitars, hints of electronic beats offset ambient drones, and ornate dual guitar harmonies bring the song to a close. “Stormwielder”, conversely, is expertly executed metalcore ferocity, as the band’s skillful use of hardcore riffs and beats, classy melodies, as well as the ubiquitous breakdowns and the downtempo outro, elevates the song much higher than your usual cookie-cutter kiddiecore. “Mercy Liberation”, meanwhile, concludes the album in style, beginning with a stirring, not to mention astonishing, Western-themed intro directly inspired by the work of composer Ennio Morricone, and concluding with a stomping coda drawing from mid-‘80s Metallica.
Burst pull out so many musical ideas over the course of this album, that it’s surprising to realize that the CD is only 40 minutes long, and so focused and economical is the music, it seems that hardly a second is wasted. It may have taken the band a good dozen years to find themselves, but Origo proves that it was well worth the time and effort.