BURIAL IN THE SKY – The Consumed Self (2021)REVIEW

In the process of charting their way through a dystopian epic of their own creation Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based progressive death metal quintet Burial in the Sky have arguably relied upon the high bar set by their peers when parsing their path forward. This might seem like a mundane statement or, even a bit of slight to start but not if we consider what few notable bands they’re rubbing shoulders with as we embrace ‘The Consumed Self‘. Cutting right to the marrow of it, sincerity and the physicality of the riff combined have long been a sort of baneful challenge for cerebral progressive death metal beyond the mid-2000’s — If only for the sake of the colorful yet blunt edge of metalcore’s weirding evolution providing the basal, smooth-muscular membrane of the craft within the popular sectors available in the United States and Europe. These fellowes may appear to have arrived upon the remedy we’d find in neo-futuristic ‘tastemaker’ pick-ups able to salvage some of the organic nature of death metal (Rivers of Nihil, Black Crown Initiate, Allegaeon) to some degree while ultimately making heavy enough prog-metal records but, I’d argue this third full-length manages a believable quality, a lack of skin deep ‘rock star’ arms-length distance that does not apologize for its heavier technical/progressive death metal impetus. Is it a “modern” progressive metal album? Yes, way yes, and surely a band looking to break through to a much bigger audience. I will ultimately argue that there is enough value here that these fellows have earned that break and perhaps even poured it on too thick this time around while admirably “going for it.”

Fusion of forms and selves has been key to the success of ‘The Consumed Self’ as an event beyond curio, a collaboration that avoids a half-brained mash of differing ideals by way of a largely agreed-upon point of advancement for the band beyond their impressive second album ‘Creatio et Hominus‘ (2018) an progressive death metal outlier which I’d enjoyed upon review. That previous album is the only real context we need to illustrate what has changed in just a few years — A thoughtfully written and I’d say ‘intellectual’ progressive metal album that’d refracted the greater philosophic solarium of modern progressive/technical death metal without relying on brutality for interest; Burial in the Sky are still decidedly more interested in the standards supplied by related popular act Rivers of Nihil via intricate, flowing pieces that generate melodramatic dystopian or post-cataclysmic atmosphere meant to match a poignant, reflective tonality. For this album they’ve on-boarded the session vocalist for ‘Creatio et Hominis’ Jorel Hart (ex-Cognitive) as well as a second guitarist Brad Hettinger (ex-Dismal) and this seems to have allowed the band to reach the higher standards of today for this type of music which we typically find on labels like The Artisan Era, Unique Leader and Willowtip. In fact we’ll almost have to pluck artists from those rosters to get a sense for what the next level beyond the previous album entails, Alustrium being the most obvious comparison for their lack of direct deathcore interest and strong theatrical presentation but also Virvum‘s knack for using extended progressive tangents to create a sense of journey, movement within a scene. If nothing else expect an exclusively professional render, performances, and high standards of presentation be it the running order or the album art (via Justin Abraham).

A resplendent hour-long double LP sure to have collectors World War Z‘ing for a copy a year from now, ‘The Consumed Self’ makes a strong first visual impression via a freshened logo design and its well-patrolled, deeply polluted purple skies. This imagery sets the scene yet doesn’t necessarily prepare the expectation of the listener for the clean-sung introduction “The Soft Violet Light” which, I suppose has an timeless Opeth-esque quality as an opening moment that intends to set the narrative tone as a poetic, sensorial experience. They’ve actually released a short story, narrated over on YouTube and downloadable otherwise which elaborates upon the setting, the story aligned with the concept album which they’ve suggested is an integral part of the whole statement. I would recommend stepping into that portal -after- the full listen since it will allow for a more lasting recollection of ideas/events and inspire further listens. Beyond that brief opener, the introductory single, “An Orphaned City“, is a crescendo of brutal tragedy beyond, wheeling in on tornado winds of expressive runs that allow the drums to commit most of the violence implied before finger-tapped post-ethereal waves kick in and bassist Zach Strouse‘s (Rivers of Nihil) saxophone sets our feet on solid ground, running under nuclear-lit streetlamps. Sure, we are far beyond the opening credits at this point but if we consider the bigger picture of ‘The Consumed Self’ the first two pieces are still foreshadowing, generating atmosphere, and coloring up expectations of where Burial in the Sky will go with this album. There should be no passé implication on my part that this is “just the beginning” but consider that the opening pieces here are already an over-the-top full body high; It is “On Wings of Providence” when we finally land upon our first peak narrative moment and start to see the band at thier best, which tends to be within these ~7 minute tightly structured technical death metal songs.

At this point we’ve seen the general but not absolute patternation that serves the first of four major waves of activity on the full listen, these ultimately make up a four-arc structure — Peaking again on “Mechanisms Of Loneliness” and on the most Between the Buried and Me-esque “Caught In The Azure Cradle” before the album fully spills beyond the edge of excess within the intense ~13 minute closer “Anatomy of Us”. There exist far too many fine and interesting details to parse here so, the broader implication of all ideas unraveled and scene-appropriate throughout should be enough of an evaluation. You are getting an experience here, not just another prog-death album that tediously fiddles its way out of the work of songwriting (er, album writing) through flashy machined instrumentation but a tumultuous and elegant presentation that does more than imply set and setting, serving itself up as if a piece of anthropocene affected progressive musical theater. This is especially true as we crack into the second half of the full listen where each piece ups the ante, “Mountains Pt. 2 – Empathy” providing the logical peak of the action before the last 20 minutes or so begin over-whip the mind of ‘The Consumed Self’. In other words: It is a long album that overstates itself but this is in keeping with the sub-genre niche and “too much” is exactly appropriate as a reaction to the not-quite-there feeling that ‘Creatio et Hominus’ had left me with. Again the sense that they’ve gone all in and are aiming without limits applied is inspiring here above all else.

Does that mean this is my kind of jam? Not entirely. The most modern and ambitious standards for progressive/technical death metal align with the most devolved ‘old school’ forms today in the sense that so many of them focus on a specific standard of established sound design to get noticed and as a result often end up sounding like part of a crowd. Works well on a show poster to see a bunch of similar tasting bands on a bill but that doesn’t make for an interesting show, right? I say this not as a response to the bright and cleanly heaviness of the record’s render, but a suggestion that this result fits in quite well with other similar bands, for better or worse. The rhythm guitars work especially hard to match the brutal physicality of the drums without resorting to chug but I wouldn’t accuse ‘The Consumed Self’ of being a riff album as a result, so, much as they impress with feats of dexterity the songcraft is what keeps me engaged otherwise. If this is a new plateau that defines Burial in the Sky, good on ’em, I’m even more of a fan after spending time with this third album. That said, I’m not yet landing in the die-hard fan zone just yet because their trajectory is headed so squarely into a professional and commercial metal sector which tends to ease in personal value over time for my own taste; This doesn’t affect the value of the experience in the present, though. I cannot help but be left in awe of the huge step-up that ‘The Consuming Self’ irrefutably is. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (76/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Consumed Self
LABEL(S):Rising Nemesis Records
RELEASE DATE:August 13th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Progressive Death Metal,
Progressive/Technical Death Metal

Progressive Metal

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