Sound — 6
Post-metal, atmospheric sludge, call it what you like; the style made famous by Neurosis from the ashes of hardcore punk has traditionally been assigned high cultural capital. Records cost good money and audiences watch live shows in dead silence. With this in mind, Philadelphia's Rosetta are brave to cut themselves loose of record labels and release new album "The Anaesthete" online on a pay-what-you-like basis. Bandcamp and Soundcloud aren't fixtures of high culture yet. Formed in 2003, the band themselves always seemed to follow at the heels of the genre's trailblazers with dustpan and brush, sweeping up the leftovers and drafting them into their own sketches. They've had some high points their debut "The Galilean Satellites" was enthralling at its best, while 2007's "Wake/Lift" was impressively professional for an album fed on the rawest sounds and emotion but theyve never done much to demand the limelight.
"The Anaesthete" is plainly the work of a band who know their style. The shallow snare, choppy distortion and melancholy dissonance are unmoving features of their sound. Besides an update in production values, which gives the heavy moments a welcome punch, not an awful lot has changed in the three years since their last full-length. "Ryu/Tradition" is a typical ten-minute excursion of light and shade, dousing a simple motif in delay and reverb before building to a destructive climax. This adventurousness feels rather prescribed by genre convention. "Oku/The Secrets," on the other hand, is highly unstable, with J. Matthew Weed's guitar crackling with feedback every time he lifts his fingers from the fretboard.
Towards the middle of the album "Hodoku/Compassion" provides a highlight, with clean vocals and jazzy percussion offering respite from the corrosive distortion. Despite being close to an hour in length the album does not use this change as a springboard for narrative evolution; bar "Ku/Emptiness," which closes the bulk of proceedings in dramatic and boisterously heavy fashion, there is little to tell between the beginning, middle and end of the disc in terms of mood.
Lyrics — 5
Vocalist Michael Armine takes two steps forward in the mix to become a frontman on this album. His hoarse scream is a useful textural tool and has been deployed in that way since the band's debut, but here he is the mouthpiece for emotions stirred by the other instruments. Taking on this role typically requires a range of expressive options, however Armine is confined to a single sort of yelp, one which works well at certain moments but becomes monotonous over an hour of music.
Overall Impression — 6
You may remember "The Galilean Satellites" came as a pair of LPs designed to be played simultaneously. It was good, but accessible to approximately no one in this form. Who has two record players? "The Anaesthete" has a completely different kind of availability problem, in that it's free to everyone but sadly rather dull. Something's not quite right when an album in this style does more to sedate than illuminate, and almost any description one can muster (combining heavy riffs with delicate clean passages!) feels tired and clichd. For scholars of the ISIS school of slow-burning, incandescent sludge, this album is unlikely to add anything to their record collection that wasn't already there five or ten years ago. It's above average, but not by much.