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Conan the Barbarian was a Cimmerian, and if by some wondrous coincidence he had lived at some point in history, I would imagine his remains would be found in some frosty European locale with an ancient history of barbaric heroism and warriors. The death metal Cimmerian, on the other hand, comes from a village not far from Chicago, Illinois, although if I were to guess from their sound alone, I wouldn’t have placed them too far from Conan’s icy gravesite. Cimmerian’s debut album is a Western echo of the European melodic death metal tradition, and though they do not tend to tread far from their roots and influences, “Infinite Perdition” is a great fusion of tight songwriting, mournful melodies and refined musicianship. I wouldn’t think it would be Conan’s first death metal style of choice, but he would be proud nonetheless.
There is a distinct similarity in Cimmerian’s sound to the likes of early Opeth. Although American death metal generally tends to be more aggressive and thrashy than its more refined old world counterpart, Cimmerian’s style would sound right at home anywhere throughout continental Europe. Although the base ingredients are the same, there are few times on “Infinite Perdition” where Cimmerian convey real ferocity. Rather than assault the listener, Cimmerian aims to emotionally stir the listener. The riffs occasionally flirt with heaviness, but for every bout of rage delivered, there is an acoustic passage hiding somewhere nearby. Like Opeth and a host of other progressively-inclined melodeath acts, Cimmerian make the soft-heavy dynamic a very important part of their songwriting. Barring the more traditional death metal track “Barshnee a ba”, each song has at least one section where the distortion abates in turn for something tender. “Haunting Contrition” even goes as far as to throw in a extended midsection of what I might only describe as a collusion of Salsa rhythms and clean jazz soloing. Cimmerian stand out above many of their likesounding peers in the regard that this soft-heavy interplay benefits the songwriting; many death metal bands’ attempt at crossing the acoustic boundary breaks the momentum of the song, but the transitions are smooth and natural here. In regards to the style, it wouldn’t be fair to call Cimmerian a ‘clone’ of Opeth or any other melodeath band, but the band’s take on this tried-and-tested sound doesn’t add anything significantly fresh to the genre.
Considering that the album is a self-released ordeal, “Infinite Perdition” enjoys a fairly solid production. There is a complimentary balance in mixing between the growls and guitars. Although the drums are held back by the trademark dullness that comes from using a machine, the beats are programmed very well. There are even occasional ambient textures used to fuel the melancholy, and these forays into soft territory are successful wherever used. Particular for a melody-centric style like theirs however, there is room for improvement in terms of production; some of the dryer death metal passages feel a bit sonically uninteresting, especially compared to the moments where Cimmerian take the extra time to flesh out the arrangements.
I can’t say that “Infinite Perdition” brings anything new to the table, but for a style that’s been covered by thousands of musicians at this point, it’s just as much a success to be able to compose something memorable. Although the band’s versatile guitar skill stands at a high caliber, above and beyond the most impressive aspect of Cimmerian’s music is their songwriting. The fusion of darkness and light works very well for them, and while you are likely to have heard something that sounds very similar to Cimmerian before, they are well worth the listen.