PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Cormorant: Dwellings

Dwellings, the sophomore album from Cormorant, really is the complete package. From the beautiful artwork that adorns the album to the savage and articulate bounties found within, it is, unequivocally, a classic.

Cormorant

Dwellings

Label: Self-Released
US Release Date: 2011-12-07
UK Release Date: 2011-12-07
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

In early December 2011, Californian metal band Cormorant released its stunning sophomore album, Dwellings. Unfortunately, because it was so late in the year, the album missed a place on many annual 'best metal' lists. However, a groundswell of critical and fan acclaim has sought to redress that error, with Dwellings being rightly hailed as one of the most astute and creative metal releases heard in many years. The four-piece is well deserving of all the accolades, and the praise is not based on its musical accomplishments alone.

Cormorant's decision to self-release Dwellings, as it did with noteworthy '09 debut Metazoa, has been applauded. Not only as a wonderful illustration of dogged determination and self-belief, but also because it has allowed the group to craft albums strictly on its own terms--a fact evidenced by Dwellings' adventurous and nonconformist character.

'Blackened' and 'progressive' are the two terms most commonly used to define Cormorant's particular style of metal. But simplified descriptors don't really do justice to the rich rewards found on Dwellings, nor do they capture the band's overall aesthetic particularly well. The album is shaped by an interweaving array of metal (and non-metal) influences. While many of these are faint silhouettes, reflected sporadically, others are more corporeal, underscoring the album's traditional metal substructure.

The unmistakable presence of black metal is keenly felt, particularly in the harsh vocals of bassist/vocalist Arthur von Nagel. However, Cormorant does not share the philosophic bent of the genre's founders. So, while frenzied tremolo picking is utilized, and a funereal ambience pervades many tracks, the black metal accoutrements exist more as an extreme finish, serving as launch pad rather than linchpin. The band takes just as much inspiration from the rough-hewn exuberance of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, nimble-fingered prog, fiery thrash and doom, along with splinters of jazz and folk.

Darker and more sonically piercing than the band's debut, Dwellings is a bricolage of influences. But Cormorant does well to take what is needed and nothing more, ensuring the album isn't overwhelmed by unnecessary musical detours. The intertwining of so many threads could have easily gone awry, but Cormorant weaves them together adeptly, allowing each song to serve as a scenic stopover on a grand overarching journey. There's something distinctly nostalgic and reverential about that; it harkens back to a time when albums were complete packages. And with Justin Weis' warm and organic analogue production, Dwellings has a distinctly mid '80s tonality and flavor.

In the past, Cormorant dealt in narratives with mythological and environmental themes. But lyricist von Nagel tackles intimate and sociopolitical issues on the new album, with a decidedly erudite bite. Blending abstract, poetic and brutally direct lyrics, he spells out unvarnished truths, illuminating humanity's failings. "The First Man", for example, deals with the atrocities committed against the Aboriginal people of Australia. "A Howling Dust" tells a woeful tale of lynch mob justice, and "The Purest Land" expounds on spiritually justified atrocities. There are no hackneyed odes to swords and Satan here, and the lyrics are framed by blasting bites of fury and gloomy-toned respites. This allows for points to be pressed home or provides breathing space for much-needed contemplation.

Cormorant uses plenty of fluctuating dynamics. Obviously that's to be expected from a band with progressive inclinations, but textural intricacies and dexterous musicianship always come with the risk of smothering the point. You might be suitably impressed with the technicality, but self-indulgent expositions often render important messages mute. And Cormorant has something to say.

There's certainly plenty of impressive interplay between the band members. But drummer Brennan Kunkel tempers his versatility appropriately, and von Nagel's bass work, which has a prominent role on the album, is placed front and centre when needed, drawn back deftly when not. The guitar work by Matt Solis and Nick Cohon--which ranges from mournful to raging--is never overplayed. Their frequent solos and propulsive rhythms do not come at the expense of the songs. With zero tolerance for overindulgent pursuits, the band's use of odd time signatures and multilayered arrangements accentuates the poignancy of the stories told.

Take the case of "Unearthly Dreamings". This song chronicles the consequences of man's desire to escape the earth. Its cosmic orientation is reflected in the solar hues of its intro, while the detrimental effects of sending individuals into space, and the melancholic realization of the enormity of the universe, is emphasized by its elliptical solos and gravity-crushing weight.

The band's ability to tell such involved tales by seamlessly coalescing the lyrics and music creates an evocative atmosphere. "Junta", a distressing tale of the bloodbath of Guinean politics, is structured to accent the horror. Its nihilistic abrasiveness emphasizes the moral vacuum in which the perpetrators operated, yet brief flickers of calm call to mind the anguish of victims. "Funambulist", which weaves a story of tightrope walking, is laden with the tension and escapism of the act. Bursts of furious riffing and von Nagal's caustic phrasing is counterpointed by cleaner harmonies and moments of serenity, adding layers of sublime introspection. Both of these songs underscore the band's ability to assemble multifaceted tunes that are never burdened by their length.

Cormorant's amalgamation of differing genres--both literal and musical--makes for a heady brew, and Dwellings is a vibrant and deeply heartfelt album. A magnificent reminder of the imaginative power of genuinely independent music, the album's success rests on its superb synthesis of intuitive music and smart lyrics. Much like similarly ingenious bands Agalloch, Hammers of Misfortune, Opeth, and the late and lamented Ludicra, Cormorant's poetic vision is reinforced by the multi-genre extremities of its sound. Dwellings really is the complete package, from the beautiful artwork that adorns the album to the savage and articulate bounties found within. It is, unequivocally, a classic, and is assured a place in heavy metal's hallowed canon.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.