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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!