As a social practice, the pre-concieved notion that death metal is primarily an outlet for youthful free expression of complex and often grief-stricken emotions is at once perfectly acceptable and naive of the thousands of capillary threads of micro-evolution beyond the sub-genre’s impetus. Perhaps a natural component of that ignorance, typical and/or standardized treatment of the artform as utility for any number of physical and metaphysical gains experienced serves mankind no differently than the weakening will of religion or, cataclysmic warfare. Self-service erodes the potential for unique mutations while lightening herd viability, damning masses more often than it enlightens the purpose of the few who break through. How many of the persistent few who transcend the bloody womb of death metal plop out as living, breathing anti-representationalists? Instead of serving the intergenic spaces of their barbarian code with inclinations of violence they become the shearing endonuclease to clip away the typical, the interstitial, and the merely ‘existing’ junk. Jagged, ringing, and brutally chaotic dissonant death metal has unfortunately been inserted into the generalist lifecode by intrepid death metal pseudo-futurists who often have non-statements in hand when deploying parroted techniques. Fiercely independent Milwaukee, Wisconsin based technical death metal quartet Ara haven’t shattered that code haphazardly but carefully disassembled it, inserting themselves as righteous codons for the grand reconfiguration of the dissonant-but-musical spectrum of the craft in the process of realizing their stoically irreverent second full-length, ‘Jurisprudence’.
Intensely intelligent and always fantastically detailed in the products of their collective working relationships the majority of Ara‘s line-up are also involved in an inspired collective of nearby extreme metal projects, most notably sludge metal act Northless but also featuring their talent(s) for the complex, form-blurring spectrum of heavy music in Concentric, Prezir, and Syrictus. For this particular project they’re relying on a shared interest in the spheres of influence surrounding technical death metal achievements by way of Anata‘s greater body of work, Gorguts‘ revelatory ‘Obscura’, and the performative evolution of Immolation in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Their first EP (‘The Blessed Sleep‘, 2012) specifically recalled ‘Under a Stone With no Inscription‘-era Anata as a primary influence but at the time shades of brutal and technical death metal that’d become standard in the post-millennium served to round out their first release. Vocals and lead guitars were not a hundred percent there out of the gate, though, and it’d be their debut full-length (‘Devourer of Worlds‘, 2014) that find Ara‘s highest standard. At the time it’d been a stunning dissonant death metal release, referential yet effective; With a few years of hindsight applied that first record was intended to be as densely packed and challenging as possible, setting all of the power in the drums and leaving the wildly technical guitars to spiral out of control. Shapeless yet ambitious guitar work occasionally lost sight of the “song” in the challenging blur of it all. ‘Jurisprudence’ rights the ship in the sense that it takes one step away from the implied chaos of ‘Devourer of Worlds’, no longer drowning in cranked brutality and instead opting for a record I’d compare to the graven, deliberate and guitar-forward approach of ‘Obscura’.
The main notes for the album’s intended headspace aim for overall coherence of statement, a render focused on organic realism, and stylistic transgression of accepted death metal forms. These goals are achieved beyond expectation, cracking a direct strike to the ear from the first riff by way of the treble-wringing snap of the rhythm guitars — A brutal, diabolic instrumental presence that conveys consistent textural force able to voice its curses by way of militantly chugged dissonance and ringing sparks of percussive technical riffing. The guitar work is intentionally damaging, chipping away at the mind’s armor with unpredictable but knowable volleys. Drums are set down to floor height in the mix, scattering their attack beneath the guitar-bolstering mix while giving the sensation of forward-angled-down propulsion rather than the previous album’s overwhelming, all-consuming and brutal bluster. Although indoctrination into this indifferent matte wall of razor-sharpness is raw and unpredictable to start, the listening experience yet manages an inhumane evolution of technical death metal that mutates away frail aesthetics in craft of violent entropic spills, the work of blunt instruments beguiling death music’s ear with impossibly finessed, profoundly derogatory movements. The trip on offer is a challenging, villainous ride that impresses with memorable but noxious phrasal statements that are charged with an unorthodox knack for technical spectacle. They’ve not necessarily reached a point of accessibility nearby any of their suggested influences but the captivity of the full listen is addictive in its staggering interpretive blur, an effect not unlike recent records from Nucleus and Replicant but perhaps slightly more reigned into its core stream of consciousness.
As a death metal fan always chasing the dragon in terms of ‘Here in After’ and ‘Under a Stone With No Inscription’ an album opener like “Ashen” presents a thrilling revelation, a seemingly broken guitar run that burns into the mind as an unwelcoming door to a an unforgiving musical world. Passage unto fire will surely hurt yet, the puzzle this song introduces the album with is far too addictive to not sit with, burn within, and parse for hours at a time. ‘Jurisprudence’ introduces itself as a foreboding, off-kilter roar daring the ear to follow its strides with the promise of repetition enough to grasp its ranting, brutal threads; Only about fifty percent of it registers into movements to start, an unkind level of complexity focused on meaningfully implied amelodic presentation. When “Ashen” takes a dip into a sub-rant for the middle portion of the song, the subtle transition might take a handful of listens before the uphill battle presented by the crawling ‘Obscura’-esque attack of the song allows for its nuance to take any knowable shape. At this point the well-ingratiated technical death metal fan will foresee the level of challenge presented yet any sense of meaningful structure may not present itself fast enough to endear listeners not already thrilled by dissonant death metal. More briefly: This is Ara dialing it back and hitting harder with fewer actions-per-minute.
Where I’d warm to the album’s bristling guitar tone and chasmic, malevolent tonal development came with “Cytokine Storm” a piece that initially threatens a brazen level of technical riffing that ends up being a mere blade-sharpening start to one of the most intense pieces on the album. The intensity begins to ramp into a frighteningly driven hammering to the point that it begins to feel like a series of fifty intermittent stab wounds while Ara‘s guitarists weave their way towards the apex statement of the album, the 8+ minute “Etymologicide”. Each piece notably flows into the next so where Side A and Side B change hands isn’t necessarily defined but “Etymologicide” offers a certain peak or centerpiece that signals an uptick in brutality alongside ‘easier’ movements compared to the front-loaded technical wallop of the first half. Think of it as increased breathing to compensate for exertion, a lighter head but a more capably responsive body. “Jurisprudence” and “Abhortion” then present themselves as abrupt pieces, ranting and blasted along the lines of the material from the second half of ‘Devourer of Worlds’; This is where I’d felt like Ara communicates their most vital transitive properties, old and renewed, with intensifying peaks in drum performances that speak to me, a fellow who’d paid very close attention to brutal and technical death metal drumming in the early 2000’s. By the end of the album slipping back to its beginning and repeating the experience feels entirely natural as the momentum built sustains to such a degree in the second half that exhaustion never factored into the full listen on my end. It swings back into the fray and continues to hold me there indefinitely in crystalline perturbed confinement.
Is it going to take more than a beauteous, cuttingly symbolic painting from Eliran Kantor and a semblance of ‘Obscura’ to get the right sort of folks to buy ‘Jurisprudence’? No, at least it most definitely shouldn’t take much more than that yet there is far more depth to glean and plunder from Ara‘s second full-length than that’d suggest. Death metal can be dreadfully emotional, cathartic and spiritual yet this particular experience places its potential reach in both sensible (or, philosophically entwined) and sensory realms of experience that manages a remarkably low-level of pretense for such a complexly-sourced set of arrangements. In this sense it is no fluke that the album is named for interpretation, meaningful examination of life’s most shapeless rules over men. Of course I can give a high recommendation for said experience, although I was already a fan and had a general idea of what I was getting into with this sophomore release from the band, I’d no notion of exactly how much it’d grow on me and entice countless repeat listens.
Very high recommendation. 4.5/5.0
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