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'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)