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Sometimes an album comes along that defies all genre conventions. An album that injects new life through experimentation, revitalizing a stagnant and decaying scene by transforming the genre into something new and unique. Chronicles of an Aging Mammal is one of these albums, a truly fascinating musical voyage mixing death metal with elements from the progressive, avant-garde and even the electronic spectrums. It’s an utterly eclectic and genre defying album, forget all stereotypes associated with death metal because this album carries none of them. Instead it takes death metal to its bare essentials and reconstructs it from the ground up. In order to appreciate this one, forget everything you learned about death metal. This is death metal in only the most basic structural necessities, the musical output is something entirely new and downright weird.
Happy death metal sounds like an oxymoron. Death metal is a genre that invokes strong feelings of chaos, darkness and negativity. Therefore a band who plays death metal with a focus on sounding light and airy sounds pretty weird. In fact it’s even weirder than anyone could comprehend. Chronicles of an Aging Mammal is constructed mainly in major chords; the electronic elements are ethereal and majestic. There’s no desire to be evil and twisted on this one, rather the focus is on an attempt to create a fantastic atmosphere unlike anything heard within the genre. It’s not just for the major scales and general happy tone; there are many reasons as to why this album is unique and weird.
The electronic elements are a pretty cool addition; they’re very spacey, adding soothing ambiances over the death metal backdrop. They’re suitably ethereal and stunningly melodic, they work well when juxtaposed with the death metal elements. They never sound out of place, creating a perfect layer of experimentation over the album. Cosmic Tear makes fantastic use out of them, focusing on an ambient techno approach; it’s a very spacey and atmospheric piece that is absolutely stellar in its slow delivery. The winding ethereal ambiance is very hypnotic in its delivery; it’s backed up with a drum machine that adds a good, solid backdrop to the music. The death metal elements are very light within this track, seeing the band focus on a much more experimental wavelength. When the death metal elements do appear, they only show up for a few seconds at a time, the odd, distant death growl with quiet palm muting. It’s quite an effective mix of ambient, techno and death metal and something that I never would have believed could work so effectively.
Along with the electronics, the song structures are also pretty darn weird. Songs go through numerous transitions, unpredictable and chaotic yet strangely controlled and organized. One minute Azure Emote could be bashing the listener round the head with furious progressive death metal and the next they could break into a soft ambient section. It’s a fascinating concept and one that allows for a large amount of experimentation. The structures lean much closer to the electronic spectrum rather than anything death metal related. The electronics are often pushed to the forefront of the music, ranging from ambient sections to much harder, techno influenced beats. There’s nothing in the way of traditional death metal structure here, with all thought seems to have been placed on to how electronic they can make it sound. The death metal elements can be criticized for being added as merely as an afterthought, not as much care and attention have been given to them. The riffs are largely unspectacular; whilst the use of major scales keeps them interesting on their own they’re not quite as astounding as the electronics. Whilst Submerged (In Hollow Realistics) has a fantastic main riff, it sounds quite black metal, is suitably technical and perfectly melodic. For the most part though the riffs just don’t hit home as much as that of the rest of the music. Whilst they suit the electronics quite well, I wish more thought had been put into them. It’s not really a major problem though, as the other elements are the most defining aspect of Chronicles of an Aging Mammal. The death metal aspects do their job just fine, and whilst they’re not the most spectacular they’re far from being atrocious. They add a good sense of heaviness to the abstract music; the guitar tone is thick and crunchy, adding a good layer of weight to the music. The results are good when juxtaposed with the electronic elements. The contrast between light and dark, whilst becoming a tad too formulaic works wonders for the music. It allows the music to maintain the listener’s interest, constantly surprising them with one of the weird twists and turns found in abundance.
Chronicles of an Aging Mammal does suffer from general awkwardness though. The music whilst being solid enough on its own right often suffers where consistency is concerned; the overall weirdness of the music causes it to become quite muddled and abstract. The songs themselves don’t have much in the way of fluidity, the transitions feel abrupt, disjointed. Whilst the overall ideas are good, too much thought was put into sounding as weird as possible forgoing many aspects of concise song writing. It’s a shame really, Azure Emote do know their way around a good song, but whilst the music is of a high quality, not enough thought was put into the song writing. Electronic elements often come out of the blue; death metal sections have no flow, constantly going through many abrupt changes. There’s a fair degree of repetitious song writing as well, some riffs such as the main one in Complex 25 get repeated far too much. It has a tendency to go through one ear and out the ear, nothing really jumps out and grabs me as much as I would like.
Azure Emote definitely present an interesting concept here. I appreciate the avant-garde and overall weirdness of the music; it’s definitely unique and experimental enough. It just doesn’t flow well enough, the ideas on their own work really well but when put together they become awkward. Songs don’t feel like songs, more of a jumbled mess of ideas. The concept of the album is good, but more care needs to be given to the death metal elements to ensure the bands continuing survival.
Assuming you've never heard this album before: what are you expecting from it, keeping in mind that it's a death metal album? Perhaps cavernous, crawling occult chaos? Fuck it, that's too dark. A sonic display of wanton slaughter? Nope, still too violent. As a matter of fact, don't expect anything remotely resembling vitriol: you're going to have to leave all your prejudices at the door for this one.
This right here is a perfect example of an album that I want to enjoy a lot more than I realistically do. Azure Emote play the most castrated, non-threatening form of death metal one could possibly imagine, not in the sense that it's watered-down but in the sense that even trademark "happy" DM bands like Lykathea Aflame and Mithras sound like fucking Encoffination in comparison. Major scales abound in the melodies, with the band apparently having excised anything which could possibly be construed as representative of destruction or harm. A sense of jubilance abounds in most of the tracks, as if they were composed merely to express how joyful existence is; and even when they're not exactly cheerful, they're still emotionally moving (though not exactly what you'd call "sad").
Chronicles of an Aging Mammal is a downright weird album even beyond its cheeriness, and this can mostly be attributed to the menagerie of vocal styles, the electronic influences and the general structure of the songs. The actual elements of the album are pretty simple in and of themselves, not really being "technical" in any sense of the word, but they combine together to make something which sounds pretty complex all-in-all. Every song is kept in its own rigid frame by a static and locked mid-paced industrial-like beat, which the guitars and electronics curiously flitter around in a sort of tag-team. The music is simultaneously jittery and coherent - sonic textures will duck out of the song and trade places with entirely different sounds in the blink of an eye, in a manner that's surprisingly subtle and unnoticeable unless you're anticipating it. The guitar riffs themselves are pretty simple, most often resembling a set of stripped-down Mithras melodies, but the electronics do enough to keep the riffs' rather basic presentation from bringing down the album too badly. The band utilize practically every sample under the sun, from the synthesized tubular bells in "Clarity Thru Apathy" to the quick devolution into harsh noise in "Behind These Speechless Eyes", to hundreds of other instances which range from cold industrial drum machine beats to fuzzy, dreamy and warm keys to soothing synthesizers to random quotations from movies and god-knows-what-else. Azure Emote have created an album which is, if nothing else, vibrant, alive, and constantly in motion.
I respect this album quite a bit for what it is, but even within its own universe's rules there are several things that could be executed better. A lot of the riffs lack any sort of punch by themselves, almost acting like a filler of sorts to justify the electronics around them. They're not memorable; they float into one ear and straight out the other. The guitar tone as a whole sounds pretty weak and mechanical, and could stand to be a bit louder and less restrained. I'm not a big fan of the vocals, either: they're primarily a mediocre, throaty growl, but the majority of the other vocals are underwhelming as well, be those the female vocals, the male singing, or the miscellany of EQed effect-laden chants, shouts, and screams in the background. I personally think that the strict adherence to industrial-styled rhythms brings the album's potential down - Azure Emote's music is, as I've said, lively, and it feels weird to try to confine it to one tempo for an entire song's length instead of giving it some leeway to breathe. In particular, I'd like to see some blast beats here, because I get the feeling that this is a band who can really let all their elements shine with a good old-fashioned snare-hammering leading the assault. (There are technically blasts of some sort at multiple places on the album, but they're usually alternating blasts with the snare on the upbeat and lack the momentum that a blast beat should strive for.)
Probably one of my biggest complaints here, though, is that the music has problems with being so horribly repetitive, with the songs going through short sequences of music far more times than anyone actually wants to hear it. "Complex 25" is probably the worst offender here, since it goes through the same annoying main riff sequence (which is pretty ehh in and of itself) twelve times in the span of a four-minute song. This wouldn't be nearly as bad if the end of the riff didn't sound like it was designed to conclude an entire song every single time it's played, but it does and so the entire thing has this feeling of a track made out of a dozen repetitions of the same annoying microsong. This is the most egregious example, but a fair few of the songs are guilty of recycling their concepts a bit too often, and could stand to be trimmed down to only a couple minutes or so in length.
My favorite song here is definitely "Cosmic Tear", which is an absolutely stellar slow-paced piece led by a drum machine and backed up with cold, spacey synths. This is where the band really pulls their shit together considering how all their individual elements sound at this point - the vocals work pretty well here for some strange reason; and the guitars don't really play anything resembling actual death metal except for the brief interlude around the two-minute mark, instead sounding like a cheesy ambient black metal band the rest of the time and serving as more of a background presence than an object of focus. Minimalism works to the band's benefit here, because the section that gets repeated is slow enough to avoid sounding too familiar by the time it's cycled back around. While my feelings on the rest of the album are pretty mixed, this song in particular is absolutely amazing and I can't recommend it highly enough.
In simplest terms, Chronicles of an Aging Mammal shows that Azure Emote have a potentially excellent formula to work with but aren't really the best at writing death metal riffs to complement it. (It feels odd saying that, considering that the main man behind the project is Mike Hrubovcak, who I would assume knows his way around the DM scene considering his long history of involvement within it.) With a bit more momentum on display here and some more impressive guitarwork, this could easily be considered something like an electronically-influenced Mithras and would probably be revered as much as that band is. In its current state, it's more interesting than it is outright good, but still intriguing enough to be worth a listen.