Sound: Like a local diner that doesn't boast a high profile but is known amongst an exclusive crowd for having the best burgers in town, Cormorant may not be a name everyone recognizes in the metal world, but those that are in the know reap the benefits. With two independently released albums under their belt, Cormorant has left listeners impressed with their formula of progressive black metal and fantasy-based, story-driven lyrics - this has earned them the UG award for best unsigned band back in 2010. Though, with the band's original bassist, vocalist and lyricist Arthur von Nagel leaving the band in 2012, fans were worried that Cormorant may be done - or worse, the band might keep making music that pales in comparison to their earlier works. In time, Cormorant would replace von Nagel's presence with bassist/vocalist Marcus Luscombe and work on their third album; which excited fans, but still kept an amount of skepticism to see how a Cormorant album "post-von Nagel" would really turn out.
"Earth Diver," much like Cormorant's other albums, offers a nice range of style in its sound. Primarily, the album boasts significant amounts of black metal (hence the official genre label), and nearly all songs are equipped with several parts of heavily distorted chords, tremolo picking leads, screaming vocals and blast-beat drumming. This main course of sound on the album can be related to the classic metal sound of Black Sabbath, and the extreme metal aspects of the drumming, harsh vocals and consistent measurement changes can be compared to the likes of progressive metal band Between The Buried And Me. To further the comparison to BTBAM, Cormorant balances out the cacophonous black metal parts in their songs with bluesy interludes, where the drums can take a break from the fleeting metal drum-lines, and clean guitars and bass play more graceful lines that intertwine (such as in "Waking Sleep," "Broken Circle," "The Pythia" and "A Sovereign Act"). Acoustic guitar parts also bring more depth to the album, with the fully-acoustic "Eris" acting as the introduction to the album and the preface for the heavy-hitting "Daughter of Void," as well as providing another good acoustic intro for the closing song of the album, "A Sovereign Act." Along with the death metal tremolo solos found throughout the album, more elaborate guitar solos in songs like "Sold as a Crow," "Mark the Trail," "Broken Circle" and "A Sovereign Act" have a more retro vibe to them, which can also be used to make the Black Sabbath comparison. With the guitars, bass and drums being strong forces throughout the album, the vocals end up being the weak link on the album. Though both the harsh and the clean vocals do their job, they aren't mixed well enough, and oftentimes get eclipsed by the energy of the guitars or the drums. // 8
Lyrics: Those that loved Cormorant for their lyrics were perhaps extra worried about how the lyrical quality of "Earth Diver" would be now that von Nagel wasn't writing the lyrics anymore. With lyrical duty now being put on guitarist/vocalist Matt Solis, he proves in this album that he can write some damn good lyrics. The lyrics in this album are all story-driven lyrics, with each song providing its own narrative, and much like their heavy and dark sound, the stories in these songs are very grim: such as the fable-eqsue tale of a leviathan taking a curious boy's life in "Daughter of Void," the unnerving tale of people being treated like lab-rats in "Sold as a Crow," the campfire-horror-story-like tale of a savage group of people living in the forest in "Mark the Trail," and the existential implosion of a man committing suicide in "A Sovereign Act." Along with eloquent choices in vocabulary to provide better-than-elementary rhymes, there are great lines that easily and poignantly sum up stories, like "rising whale with emerald tail/merely adrift, more beast than myth" in "Daughter of Void," and "legends have spoken of a terrible darkened sea/all are mistaken; an unending ecstasy" in "A Sovereign Act." As noted before, it's unfortunate that the vocals (and consequently, the lyrics) are tough to comprehend in the music itself, but thankfully, Cormorant has provided all of the lyrics on their Bandcamp page so you can properly appreciate the lyrics. // 8
Overall Impression: If you were to play "Earth Diver" to someone that wasn't aware that von Nagel wasn't a part of the band anymore, they probably wouldn't notice. The album continues the streak of Cormorant's quality, both in sound and in lyrical aspects, and those that were worried prior to hearing the album should be relieved and pleased. The album in whole acts as a collection of story-driven prog rock songs with a black metal flavor, and with both a talented display of instrumentals and detailed lyrics, this album serves as both another fresh breath of air in the world of metal music, and another reason why more people should know the name Cormorant. // 8
- Sam Mendez (c) 2014