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An entertaining, yet superficial release - 80%

ian_w, April 15th, 2008

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.