without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
By the Gods this leaves Neaera's prior two albums coughing in the dust. On their third album in two years, here we see a sudden, truly breathtaking leap in songwriting and artistic vision. Whereas earlier material essentially amounted to five young Germans jamming out some pretty cool metalcore tunes, 'Armamentarium' is all about plunging the listener straight into the howitzer shell crossfire. It's immersive on a whole other level; buzzsawing tremolo riffs, double bass hits and throat ripping screams are simply felt in a way that is bound to leave a lasting impression. “War epic” is how I would describe this masterwork in short, my most played album from 2007.
'Core elements are mostly done away with here, save for the vocals and a few melodeath/metalcore riffs sprinkled about; this album is best described as straight-up melodic death metal. Tremolo riffs and double bass drums are plentiful and utilized abrasively. The band is noticeably comfortable in their new skin, as this stylistic shift for whatever reason makes the band sound less limited by their genre affiliation and more willing to develop a sound of their own. Later works of Heaven Shall Burn are at times a close comparison, especially their strong reliance on dramatic, grandiose tremolo leads to carry the “melodic” part of melodic death metal (prevalent in earlier Neaera as well). However, 'Armamentarium' sticks closer to death metal and, more importantly, delves deeper into utter coldness, depravity and horror. Witness the breakdown at 2:20 in “Tools of Greed” or the entirety of “Liberation” for an exhibition of utter despair and hopelessness. Further impressing is the band's newfound knack for song construction. “Spearheading the Spawn” (at the time of writing, still Neaera's best song) daringly rides one riff for over a minute at its onset without even remotely wearing out its welcome. It works wonderfully as an intro that meticulously sets the tone and atmosphere of the album before proceeding to show off its songwriting chops. “Liberation” is another good example of this; from nuclear shock wave obliteration, to midpaced pounding intensity, then out of nowhere slowing down to a crawl at the turn of a dime, kicking off the album's bleakest and most depressing moment – all without sacrificing cohesion, although it may take a number of listens (years in my case) to really wrap one's head around the song. There's really something to be said for the artistry and craftsmanship on display here, and the album has kept on rewarding me for the longest time.
Contributing in a big way to the album's massive, bulldozing feel is the rather insane production by Jacob Hansen. In one way it's similar to his other work (second Neaera album, Mercenary, Anubis Gate), but even more bombastic and heavily layered if you can imagine. I love it for the thick warfare atmosphere it provides, but it does have the drawback of being a little fatiguing on the ears after a while. It's not so much stupidly loud mastering, it's more a case of a ton of stuff going on constantly for too long. As a result, I prefer playing a handful of songs from the album at a time over playing the album all the way through. Actually, another reason for this, and another one of the album's flaws, is the presence of three definite filler songs, conveniently packed together in a row before the last song. They sound like leftovers from the previous album, being way more generic and melodeathcore in style and thus do not really fit in with other songs. The last minor quibble I have is with the death metal vocals whenever they show up, which I've elaborated on in other Neaera reviews. Fortunately, the screamier 'core vocals are as great as ever.
The final rating reflects 'Armamentarium''s position of being one of my favorite metal albums of all time, rather than an average of its strengths and flaws. It's fascinating to see a band raise their ambition so enormously and then go on to fulfill it completely and then some. Few albums evoke to me an ambiance this heavy and oppressing. It offers plenty of headbanging fun, too!
I’ve long been a fan of Neaera, but they’ve always been one of those bands that you don’t tell people you like. Their first two albums are very typical metalcore with slight melodic death leanings and to be frank, are extremely derivative. Yet, I always kept coming back to them. What can I say, I’m a sucker for catchy hooks and vocal patterns; something Neaera excels at. It is with a great deal of satisfaction that I can finally say Neaera are no longer a guilty pleasure band of mine. They’ve matured their sound and refined their craft to a point where their music is becoming no longer just a sum of their influences, but something different and representative of the band.
With Armamentarium, Neaera have shed most of their metalcore past and taken on a much more melodic death metal approach akin to fellow German acts Heaven Shall Burn and Fear My Thoughts. The guitar work is rapid and precise, with most riffs calling upon heavy amounts of tremolo picking and chromatic scales. While this might immediately put some listeners off, I urge you to listen for yourself. There is something about the melody that this band is able to infuse into their songs that gets under your skin. The rest of the band performs admirably and ably with a special nod towards drummer Sebastian Heldt. The kicks on songs like “The Orphaning” and “Mutiny of Untamed Minds” show his surgical accuracy and add a welcome layer to the thick sound of Neaera.
The vocals are perhaps the most unique aspect of this band. Vocalist Benjamin Hilleke has an offsetting sour shriek that takes some getting used to, but quickly grows on those willing to give this disc a few spins. His low growls are well executed and change up the pace of the song, similar to The Black Dahlia Murder’s singer Trevor Strand. What I like most about Hilleke’s voice is the fury and rage conveyed. Too often metal vocals are lacking in conviction and it feels like they’re simply going through the motions. This is not the case with Armamentarium.
One standout track is “Liberation”. The 7 minute monster (well, monster by Neaera’s standards) is a perfect example of their new style. Catchy, with enough hooks and interesting vocal patterns to make the song seem like it’s flying by. The extensive use of growls, coupled with the somber sounding verses give the story effect to the song, showcasing Neaera’s obvious improvements in songwriting maturity. The closing track “The Cleansing Void” is also fantastic. The clean singing is commendable and the rest of the track is a shitstorm of anger and headbanging riffage.
There are, however, downsides to this record. While most of it is very listener friendly and easy to digest, much of it is forgettable. Not in a bad way, but not in a good one either. Few individual passages stuck out to me, and I wasn’t catching myself humming a tune from the disc either (the notable exception being “Liberation”). Another downside is the complete lack of a discernable bottom end. Where the hell is the bass on this record? I’m tired of metal albums forgetting to include the bassist. The only time you can hear anything he plays is during the acoustic passages on “The Cleansing Void”. Other than this detail that all sound engineers seem to leave out, the production on Armamentarium is very crisp and well suited to their sound.
This record took about three spins to really click with me. There are a lot of unexpected layers to their sound that are easy to gloss over with just a casual listen. Armamentarium is by no means a genre defining record. However, it is bound to win over new fans while also keeping the current legions satisfied.
'Armamentarium' is an immensely frustrating listen. It's full of absolutely wonderful portions buried underneath horrific overproduction and filler sections that add nothing to the music at all, making each track an exercise in picking and choosing what you want to pay attention to. This sucks because Neaera makes some incredible epic melodic death metal, but damn if you don't have to hunt and peck for it for the whole near hour of this LP.
For those that don't remember, Neaera started off as a pretty boring metalcore band that turned into full-blown melodic death metal with 'Armamentarium'. This is, like nearly all departures from metalcore, a very good idea on the band's part. So now Neaera is trying their hand at a very large, bombastic style of melodic death metal that is incredibly good at times. The title track works on a thousand different levels: its vast tremolo riffing and dramatic vocal delivery make it a masterpiece on all counts. But too often the band gets bogged down in sections of boring metalcore/melodeath riffing that goes nowhere but to inflate track times. This makes the album feel more like a second job than a CD, and it really makes one question whether you should bother to listen or not.
As said before, this album is way, way overproduced. Everything sounds like it's been layered two dozen times, and while it is at least superficially 'powerful', it's far busier than it needs to be. With two much layering comes a curious strain of incoherence that ultimately harms the music by detracting from the lucidity of the composition, resulting in tracks that, yeah, are epic, but are also meaningless too. It seems that this band would do better without a big label, without a big budget, without a big anything for a while: forced to depend purely upon their own songwriting abilities to sustain them for a while. They clearly have it, why not let them?
Because when it's good, it's really good. The atmosphere is very warlike and stormy (in the good parts), and the epic parts are truly epic. The sweeping melodies work much better than the pointless groove riffing, and the high pitched vocals (not unlike the late Abigail Williams) are actually very good along with the deeper growls. All the instruments are played very well (it's a band on Metal Blade, like it's not to be expected) and the music is generally not boring. But the faults of this album are clear and obvious, and they really do prevent it from reaching the heights it deserves.
More riffs, less production, less variety, more intensity. That's what Neaera needs. And while 'Armamentarium' is good, it's hard to stand up to its flaws without wondering, "Why am I listening to this?"
(Originally written for www.vampire-magazine.com)
Before I start, I have to ask.......how the fuck does this band do it? Their third album in three years and they keep progressing while showing no signs of running out of ideas. Thats 33 songs in three years, none of which are filler. It's mind boggling, and after 3 albums, they have enough material for me to claim them as one of my all time favorites. Incredible, skull fucking metal.
Again, moving even farther away from their Metalcore debut, Armamentarium can only be classified as Melodic Death Metal, with stylings of Thrash and straight Death. No more breakdowns, but the crush and chug is still there, but the metal variant as opposed to the Hardcore. LOTS of double kick and blast beats are to be heard on this record.
All the songs on this album feel extremely epic, yet without bordering on the 9 minute pretentiousness of Machine Heads new album. The melodic breaks are so dramatic and fit the sound of a desperate struggle, while the crushing thrash riffs depict violence, so expect some serious damage with this record.
Neaera, again play a similar style to a whole plethora of bands out there, but again (like on their previous outing 'Let the Tempest Come') manage to stand out and hold their own with their endless and consistent stellar riffing and interesting writing. Every song features at least five sick riffs and breaks. Most bands of this style manage to barely write 2 or 3 gems on an album, but Neaera consistently lay out albums of fucking beauty. If they don't make it to the big leagues of upper tier metal bands with this album, something is horribly wrong with the world.
Just like previous years, Germany is annihilating shit to hell in 2007. Fear My Thoughts, Caliban, Deadlock and now this, the only way to make this year more incredible for the German scene would be if Heaven Shall Burn cut another album, but doubutful. Speaking of, Marcus of HSB guests on the the albums last track 'Liberation' making the song a scream duet of sorts with Neaeras Benny.
Album highlights include the lead off track with its crushing lead riff, 'Syngergy' with more melody than you can shake a stick at, Harbringer with its lumbering crush, and the closing track, but lets be honest, they're all highlights, this album destroys.
Unless the new Soilwork album somehow tops this, this will be my album of the year in December. Gaurenteed. Incredible.....just incredible.
Recommended Listening: Spearheading the Spawn, Armamentarium, Synergy, Harbringer, The Orphaning, Liberation