So many easily shattered doorways beyond surface level heavy and/or extreme music exist that it would seem they all gnash for the crumbs of a smaller, but admittedly more lucrative, fleeting space in the minds of the uninitiated. A half-dead planet full of frustrated phone-gripping mutants represent a huge pile of potential recipients for the deeply shaded gradient that grows between accessible alt-metal innovation and popular modern heavy metal. As I grow older a darker blurred cynicism grows within me with every passing year as the bands that survive through mass influence continue to twinkle in the eyes of new waves of musicians. I didn’t contribute to the success of Gojira nor Meshuggah and even they show some marked embarrassment for the clones spawned from their detritus. To wear these influences outwardly typically riles up a spitting frenzy of limbs and curses from my side of the room yet the self-titled debut EP from Grenoble, France progressive death metal band Barús in 2015 appeared entirely inoffensive and solidly entertaining at the time. In many ways that EP was a way back through to the other side, an angle giving nods to a more accessible style but with a damned seriousness that appeared to avoid populist intentions.
In piecing together the ambitions of their experimental death metal sound within a full-length format Barús offer a structurally complex death metal album that bridges the adventurous spirit of earlier (pre-‘From Mars to Sirius’) Gojira with Gorguts‘ ‘Obscura’ using the atmospheric ripples of turn of the century Immolation to fill in the gaps. It is a curious piece to dive into because there is as much ‘The Link’ as there is influence from Arkhon Infaustus (or even DeathSpell Omega‘s least orthodox momentum) and I haven’t yet mentioned the nigh post-rock feeling atmospheric elements (see: “Engorge”, “Amass”) that actually works remarkably well in terms of providing variety and fluidity. How can this possibly be palatable? By virtue of a heavy attraction to discordant and unique progressive death metal, admittedly.
There is a remarkable middle ground struck on ‘Drowned’ that favors the darker side of things. It isn’t relentlessly slapped like an Ulcerate record nor is it outwardly complex and unhinged as anything by Diskord or Portal but if ‘Obscura’ was a high watermark for you, this provides a distant rhythmic cousin that just slightly extends the concept and trades the early 90’s death metal climate for a warmed over modernity. In fact the production sound and guitar tone are almost too illustriously captured on ‘Drowned’ without the noxious clangor of any of the bands that influenced Barús to fill a sort of ‘abrasion quota’ expected from this type of technicality. It is both refreshing in tone and only slightly disappointing in terms of ‘riffs versus compelling rhythms’.
To say that ‘Drowned’ was a grower only suggests that my expectations were set low at the mention of certain bands I’ve already mentioned. Once I had immersed myself within Barús‘ darkness-bearing tones the effect was not unlike my early experiences with ‘Unholy Cult’ where closer listening revealed complexity and worthwhile dynamic but never completely outdid those opening moments. It would appear that the band are cognizant of the need to lean towards death metal yet they repeatedly rely on dry (bland) riffing for transitions within several tracks (see: “Vitiate”) and this flattens a few very intense moments that would have otherwise been true peaks of interest for the full listen. “Perpetrate” was compelling in that it begins sounding like a stronger track from Sepultura‘s ‘Against’ were it performed by early 2000’s Ulcerate, this sort of moment fluctuated in value with successive listens and made it somewhat difficult to decide how I felt about the bigger picture of Barús‘ debut.
Ultimately I found my horizons slightly expanded by ‘Drowned’ as the rhythmic flow of the record had more to offer once I shut off the part of my brain that is programmed to be repulsed but the esoteric downtuned chug-tone that characterized the early 2000’s popular metal landscape. Between the soggy, crawling riffs and gasped vocals is a worthwhile listen but at no point does it offer more than its influences despite how incredibly polished the overall curation of elements and atmospherically sensitive arrangements is. As an impossibly heavy and twisted chugging beast Barús‘ debut is admirably focused and intense and I can recommend it with a reasonable amount of enthusiasm. I don’t believe it is varied or compelling enough to transcend influences but the ride from Point A to Point B is captivating and takes quite a few unexpected turns despite feeling linear as an experience. If you are fairly orthodox within your death metal tastes and approach this sort of thing with trepidation I would suggest previewing “Dissever” as it is (more or less) the most outside-the-box composition to test your boundaries with. Despite some personal vacillation with interest to the simpler guitar work, I can highly recommend this album.
Plunge into nothingness. 4.0/5.0
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