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a desolate land, ruled by riffs - 87%

skoggangr, May 27th, 2011

Since these guys are pretty new I suppose I should place more emphasis than usual on describing their sound. Lago is straight up death metal, without a doubt. Their most obvious influence is Morbid Angel, but they aren't the usual clone band; they've absorbed and reinterpreted the sound, doing what M.A. does (or, sadly, did) rather than copying their style. It's a response, not an homage. The influence is evident in their sinuous riffs, their marriage of consonance and dissonance, and their crisp, tastefully technical approach to playing. These songs are a lot simpler and more driving than M.A. songs, though...it's like they really dig Blessed Are The Sick but made sure to avoid creating anything that resembled it superficially. Lago pull off some pretty satisfying chugging (check out the beginning of "Center of a Wounded Nation"), and the songs have that continuous grind that M.A. seemed to deliberately avoid on their most interesting material. Overall, the feel is austere and martial.

There are definitely "outside influences" at play here, but they are organically related to the death metal and work at the service of the songs. In fact, this stuff goes a long way to setting Lago apart from any existing death metal clique. First, there are some straight up blasting/tremolo sections that have much more to do with Mayhem or Axis of Advance than clean, technical death metal. These have the coolest melodies on the album, and they are cunningly deployed. Lago drop them in past the halfway point in songs like "Marianas" and "Youma," once you think you've already heard all the cool riffs, and you're just like "OH SHIT! Here we go!" They really stand out from the other riffs, which are anchored in palm-mutes, and they sound great played on the low end with thick production. Second, Lago incorporate nice chords and arpeggios that remind me more of Neurosis or Isis than anything. They pop in places like 2:42 of "Arbitrary Conflict" and 1:59 of "Center of a Wounded Nation." It's cool to hear some harmonies hanging over over the bleak landscape of towering riffs.

These outside strains of sound get excluded by default from Real Death Metal, but there really isn't any reason why they don't fit. The whole point is that they are mere stylistic gestures, they don't have any intrinsic musical meaning. It's one thing to confuse them with the essence of a genre or to force them together in a pathetic attempt to "be original," but another thing to use them wisely within appropriate contexts.

The even more abstract point I want to make is that Lago have really nailed the inner logic that guides Blessed Are The Sick--they've digested an influence in the most meaningful way possible. THIS, more than anything else, is why I keep harping on the comparison. Like M.A., Lago makes architectonic music. Its power lies not so much in its kinetic drive (though Lago does have this) as in its awe-imposing structure. It's the difference between the power of a charging cataphract and the power of a Roman temple. It's the difference between the horizontal and the vertical.

Maybe you already know what I mean, but I think this is worth exploring a bit more. Lago's riffs are written and arranged so that each stands forth in its distinctness. They're set off from one another. Even when they are not the most original patterns, they're phrased in a way that makes them compelling and memorable. The best example I can think of is the main riff of "Wounded Nation," which drops at 00:37. You hear it at first and you're like, "oh it's one of those riffs," but it has a structural clarity that makes it stay with you. It's simple, even standard, but it could never be mistaken for any other riff. And then, these riffs--which are in themselves powerful sonic forms--come together in a really cool overall structure that only brings this out. Lago have translated the fiercely abstract language of M.A. into a much more physical music, without losing the feeling that you are listening to a musical edifice.

Aaaanyway, foray into aesthetic philosophy aside, I gotta make some constructive criticism. First, the black metal backing vocals are lame and kind of awkward. There's something a little off. They're either too "depressive black metal" or too deathcore, but I don't know either genre well enough to know which. This is definitely a delivery problem, but the production doesn't help...they jump out and distract from the other shit going on. The patterns could use some work too. Either polish these up or leave 'em out. Second, I think Lago could use a different production. The very clean, polished sound is clearly a nod to their tech-death heroes, but in music that is more about repetitive, colossal riffs, I say go for the guttural. Keep the low end beefy, but boost the buzz and grind. Let it take up more space. Basically, give this a war metal production treatment.

So, Marianas is massive, and you should check it out. It was released by Pale Horse Recordings, who are a dope underground label, and they did a nice job with the packaging. The red text is so dark you have to struggle to make it out against the black. I never thought a reading experience could be "metal as fuck," but there you go. This is a great debut E.P. by a band carving out their own niche. Should appeal to fans of classic death metal disappointed with the "retro" trend, open-minded war metal guys, and even crust punks and sludge guys looking for something riffier. Posers and nerds should look elsewhere.

(Slightly adapted from my original review at www.trialbyordeal666.com)