Cormorant‘s “Dwellings” was released late 2011 and there’s a fair chance that if you’re reading this you are already familiar with the album or at least with the dent it made on the extreme metal community on its release. It continues to be highly regarded and almost a full year later here is my retrospective look at one of the best metal albums of recent times.
The lead-off track, ‘The First Man,’ begins with a fanfare that sounds like a homage to the Game of Thrones theme. Dual guitar and thunderous double-bass pounding provide a portentous glimpse of the intensity that is to come. While Cormorant‘s music is dramatic, even cinematic in its scope, its lyrical content could not be further from fantasy or metal cliché. The First Man’s depiction of ancient human sacrifice comes across more as anthropological study of early man than a superficial gore-for-the-sake-of-it blood-letting.
Arthur von Nagel‘s lyrics are politically and socially aware, covering topics as harrowing as militarised rape and racial violence. Von Nagel confronts these issues not from an uneasy Angel of Death-style sensationalist glorification, but to expose the injustice and brutality of the perpetrators. Each track is a self-contained story. ‘Junta’ is perhaps the most disturbing example, which seeks to accurately portray the suffering of the victims of the violent 2009 subjugation of a pro-democracy rally in Guinea, utilising sections sung in French for added verité. If you are not repulsed by its depictions of extreme sexual violence against the female demonstrators you have a harder heart than I. I’ve never heard such pathos allied to such crushing metal. This band really is doing something special and important, with an intelligence that is rare in music of any genre.
Cormorant‘s predominant style is progressive black metal. There’s a symphonic structure to each track traversing a variety of moods and tempos. Folk elements are introduced in some tracks. These help to set the scene and add some historic accuracy to the tales, such as the Wild West-tinged guitar duo which introduces ‘A Howling Dust’ – a child’s eye view of ethnic cleansing in a small Californian ghetto. Fans of Agalloch will be instantly at home with this marriage of black metal and indigenous music and folklore. The inspired guitar work of Matt Solis and Nick Cohon ranges from crushing unison riffing to tasteful soloing and clean arpeggiated sections. There is no ego on display – parts complement one another while being interesting of their own accord when focused on in isolation.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the lyrics to the visceral intensity of this music. If you don’t familiarise yourself with the words you really won’t be getting the full emotional impact. Similarly, this is not an album to listen to in the background. It demands your full attention and if you give it your time and effort you will be moved and angered in equal measure. Not an easy listen but with a band displaying this much integrity, putting so much into their vision, the least you can do is block out distractions and let them tell you their intricately crafted stories.