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Okay, this is NOT what I was expecting. To recap: Armamentarium, the Neaera album prior to this one, was the enormousest juggernaut of melodic Death Metal ass-stompery ever and made no apologies for napalming my worthless butt into oblivion, and turning my remains into Swiss cheese with a 40 mm cannon afterwards. Out of nowhere, the previously solid but generic Gothencore band from Germany had suddenly increased the extremity by a thousandfold, dropped nearly all hardcore and pseudo-thrash in favor of death metal, and most importantly, matured an unbelievable lot as songwriters (in one year!), resulting in an infinitely more challenging and rewarding album. Plus, the production was so awesomely over-the-top and overwhelming, so multi-layered and chaotic it was, aimed to plunging the listener right into the crossfires of war. Now, with a real metal masterpiece under their belt, as well as a real identity found for themselves, how have they gone about about in following it up? Well, each Neaera album up to this point has been more death metal influenced and generally more extreme than the last; Omnicide - Creation Unleashed follows this tradition. However, as I said, some less expected and rather overt changes seem to have taken place as well.
This album is even harsher and less accessible than Armamentarium and by now Neaera's first couple of albums seem ever so far away, despite being written only 3 and 4 years earlier respectively (by the exact same quintet, no less). The straight-up death metal tremolo riffage is very strong; both the raging, atonal stuff, and the harmonized, highly epic lead melodies remain a main selling point of Neaera's recent sound. A greater presence of blastbeats, more inconventional song structures and less of the relatively ear-pleasing, non-extreme metal that the previous album was intermixed with ("Synergy", for instance), work towards further upping the overall DM factor as well. The song "I Loathe", however intentional, has just about the exact same opening as Deicide's "Serpents of the Light", which says something about the music on here. Unfortunately, the low growls remain Neaera's great Achilles heel (no pun on Greek mythology intended...); they're weak and powerless, and you'll just have to learn to overlook them. It's funny, because the higher, screamed vocals are actually one of the band's definite strengths and they're as intense and passionate as ever here. In all, so far, so good; a wise and logical continuation of the developments that made Armamentarium so good.
More questionable, however, is the grand return of hardcore elements. On this album, Neaera's evolution of turning less core between albums is not just completely reversed: all of a sudden, the hardcore is more prevalent than ever. HxCx-breakdowns are plentiful, some thuggish vocals are introduced and there's a more urban, street-wise delivery of the whole thing. The problem is that this does not mesh well with the epic, grand and squarely metal tremolo riffage on display, and gives the music a directionless and confused feel at times. Predictable as Neaera's metalcore beginnings may have been, the metal/core mixture felt way more natural on those albums. Moreover, the breakdowns are merely okay in themselves, and not that skillfully written into the songs, in a way that would otherwise give them more weight. The one huge, glaring exception to this is the breakdown in "Age of Hunger", which is actually the best moment on the whole album, placed there just to fuck up the point I'm trying to make. Perfect buildup and heavy as a ton of bricks: glorious, glorious headbanging ensued. But otherwise, I get a vibe of a clumsy attempt at catering to the deathcore crowd, although the music here is more like hardcore-influenced death metal (like Dying Fetus, although this doesn't really sound like them either) than deathcore proper.
The most immediately noticeable change here is the production, which has undergone a massive overhaul. A complete turnaround from the extravagant, more-layered-than-a-Dagwood-sandwich production of Armamentarium, Omnicide appears like a demo by comparison, with every instrument being way stripped down. The band is still on Metal Blade's roster and so the sound is still tight, clean and modern, but it's also very dry and thin in a Morbid Angel or early Deicide way, making for a distinctly more unfriendly and inaccessible presentation. A probable reason for this change: there's just no way they could've topped the previous album's complete OTT-ness in creating the biggest wall of sound possible, so they tried a different approach altogether. This is definitely in line with the band's willingness to push the extremity - this time in a less obvious way than to just make more noise - and be progressively more challenging to the listener, which I applaud them for. However, there's an issue to be had with the guitar sound, for reasons other than just not being instantly likeable. Specifically, it's awfully muffled and often sounds more like a static hum than actual distortion, which tends to rob the songs of their intensity. Similar to the ongoing "loudness wars" headache, its lack of dynamics makes the whole album grate on the ears after a while. The only time it sounds good is during the breakdowns, but again, they're not that great anyway, so there.
So, what to make of this one, to sum up? On the good, it retains most of Neaera's songwriting strengths and moves forward with their sound. On the bad, lousy production and a mostly dubious return of hardcore attributes. With Armamentarium (sorry, can't stop comparing the two!) firmly residing among my top 20 favorite metal albums of all time, I've persistently tried to get into the album more, and although Omnicide certainly proves a grower, its flaws remain clear and apparent. I'm still optimistic about Neaera's future, though; in my perception, the album isn't so much sign of Neaera turning stale as it is a victim of a few bad decisions and unsuccessful experimentations. A slight misstep is how I prefer to look at it, and I'm convinced that the band's best days are far from over. Final verdict: disappointing, yet worthy.