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If there is one thing that is more grating to the ears and mind than a collection of death injected, pseudo-technical grind dribble, it is an album that openly professes a lack of any direction to speak of. As much as I can hate the lame proponents of Northeastern US grind/hardcore of the 90s, the recent and decrepit phenomenon of deathcore, and the ever threatening sword of Damocles known as groove metal, there is a lower form of art that occasionally pops out of the progressive/symphonic metal scene, particularly the extreme side of the prog metal scene that trumps them all. While you can perhaps garner a certain appreciation for the consistency of the 3 former styles, this directionless variant on progressive extreme metal not so much a style, but rather the manifestation of anti-style.
Some modern artists will toil for days or weeks on end to create something that is purposefully random in every respect of the word, though simultaneously making the parts distinctive, in spite of the monstrous incongruousness of the sum. This form of modernistic collage making is distinctive from what people who know nothing about creating art create by throwing together random paint splattering works together only in that the artist is himself subjugating his hard earned abilities to purposefully create something of the same quality. Anyone can point out the obvious failings of true no-talents who record/create garbage, but finding people with the testicular fortitude to actually go after the great talents who try to push piles of polished purposelessness off on lovers of art and music alike is not so easy.
I bring all of this up because it is the best way to preface what the hell I just experienced while listening to this contorted mess of sound that is somehow supposed to be a concept album. A more proper term for Once Was Not, more commonly known as OWN, in terms of the musical content is a non-concept album. But unlike their latest offering of riff fragment collages that are at least stylistically consistent, here the band has purposefully thrown out nearly every style of music imaginable in the most unorganized way possible. We get a few helpings of late 19th/early 20th century Spanish acoustic guitar, a few 20 second chunks of Neo-Classical symphonic themes and atmospheric twists, some jazz ballad detours, a ton of repetitive yet disjointed riffs over either drum fill drenched groove beats or blast beats, quirky electronic effects, bizarre and indiscernible spoken narrations layered on top of other vocal devices, all of which result in a 50 minute blur that can not be in any way processed by the mind.
Good ideas and solid elements are few, and are almost utterly destroyed by what follows them, what precedes them, or what is often among them as they occur. Lord Worm’s vocals, though not at all conforming to what he had contributed to brutal death metal’s earlier history, are the most consistent element at play and the only thing that really makes this album extreme metal. His low grunts are not as powerful or frequent, but he does employ some higher end shrieks typical to the early Norwegian black metal vocal style, though often mimicking the similar register yet different timbre of Dani Filth. There are a few sections of “Angelskingarden” and “Endless Cemetary” where this can be observed in its purest form. Despite not being fully up to what he accomplished on “Blasphemy Made Flesh”, it’s miles ahead of anything the other 3 vocalists who filtered in and out of this outfit have ever put forth.
Musical ideas filter in and out of here as well that could have been great if they had been given time to develop and were not surrounded by dozens of other ideas, in themselves either good or lousy. Prefacing the album with a classical guitar solo, which was Levasseur’s last contribution to the band, is actually a pretty interesting idea and for the first minute of so I thought I was going to hear something pretty good. The keyboard atmosphere is also well realized, although frankly the electric guitar part that filters in towards the end suffers from a lack of punch, not to mention being severely underdeveloped. “Adeste Infidelis” and “Endless Cemetary” both have decent to above average guitar solos, although what is going around them riff and atmosphere wise is extremely detached from them. And quite ironically, though most fans of this band would disagree, the keyboard usage would be pretty good if it wasn’t for the mess of drum madness and guitar note clustering that it’s superimposed against.
As a whole, this album is an attempt to merge a small amount of the overdone and over-praised brutal sound of “None So Vile”, complete with all the pretentious showboating of Flo Mounier destroying any prominence of the guitars or bass, with the rapid yet directionless style shifting of Opeth. Considering that such music was rising to noticeable prominence as the late 90s groove/grind craze was starting to fizzle and it was just a little too early for the deathcore craze, this was the logical choice for a band that was intent on trying to expand their fan base rather than return to the genre that made them. That’s right, death metal made Cryptopsy, there is nothing genre defining about what they’ve done as it pertains to death metal. The only thing of quality that they can claim was in line with the traditions set forth by Carcass and further developed by Cannibal Corpse.
The most perplexing aspect of this album is that despite the obvious similarities to Opeth, the vast majority of this band’s fan base don’t like Opeth at all, but can make excuses for an album like this because of who is in congress. Despite my respect for his abilities, Lord Worm is completely out of place on here, and if he had not been on this album it would have received the exact same treatment as “The Unspoken King” has. His vocal talents are better suited in a lesser known band creating something along the lines of consistent brutal death in the style of early Mortal Decay, a band similar in sound to Cyptopsy’s demo and debut, or even with a more traditionally oriented death metal band that sounds akin to Morbid Angel. There is no doubt that his presence is nothing more than window dressing to keep the old fans of this band in line, and shame on this band for duping him into being involved with this.
The principle reason for the decline of any metal sub-genre, be it power metal, thrash metal, death metal, or any other, is that the fans of these genres get obsessed with the persons involved in their propagation and forget that the style is an end in itself. Imagine Varg Vikerness deciding to release a folk/Viking metal album. Then imagine some of his fan base rationalizing it as him making a statement against the dogmatic establishment that black metal and drone/ambient metal have become since his time in prison. Though the likelihood of this happening pretty close to nil, it makes one think about how people prioritize music. It is the slave of the caprices of the writer and his pet causes, or is it something else?
As shocking as it may seem, this is actually harder to listen to and lower in quality than the half emo/half deathcore crapper that has followed it. There is no flow to it, nothing to identify, it’s all just a 50 minute long collection of style and sound samples plugged into a random collage template. Any redeeming qualities in it are subverted under the massive weight of the lack of direction that not only typifies the whole album, but every single song on here. You can’t really say anything on here is out of place because there isn’t any place noticeable on here to put anything. If you like Opeth’s brand of stylistic meandering multiplied by a factor of twenty, or if you want to delude yourself into believing that Lord Worm’s vocals cancel out the rest of this musical travesty, help yourself. Anyone else who likes death metal, brutal or otherwise, avoid like crazy.