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Sugar-coated sterility - 25%

we hope you die, October 13th, 2021

In an apparent quest to shun the exhilarating toxicity of extreme metal whilst still making use of the packaging, Cosmic Burial vomit forth a sickening brew of sugar-coated sterility on their latest LP ‘…to the past’, presenting us with all the imagination and musical complexity of the EastEnders theme. The obvious inspiration may be Lustre and Midnight Odyssey for swelling and immersive atmospheric black metal with a distinctively cosmic aesthetic, but the riffs take us no further than a basic pop hook. Think mid 2000s indie with a black metal guitar tone and some flat synths deployed for the illusion of depth.

As far as generic rock riffs go, ‘…to the past’ is far from the worst thing you’ll ever hear, but little is done to justify the ten minutes plus each track insists on lasting for. They breeze by with a mid-paced driving rhythm, a standard 4/4 time signature, chord sequences defined by basic and obvious cadences, and only the most generic of layered harmonies deployed as a stand in for actual musical development. As if aware of the limitations of this format, the drums will occasionally cut out to half tempo to give us the illusion of a finale, but the fact that the preceding music has been circling repeatedly round the same idea with nothing in the way of development, tension, narrative, or even the bear minimum of additional timbres means that little can be done by the end of the piece to manufacture a sense of journey, motion, or purpose.

One can sense what Cosmic Burial are trying for here, but the attempt is so lazy and uninspired that it really does need calling out. Black metal – especially the flirtations with post black metal explored on ‘…to the past’ – is well suited to creating the dreamlike, fantastical, naïve qualities that artists as divergent as Drudkh and Midnight Odyssey have been praised for in the past. But these artists – whilst far from beyond repute themselves – at least offer something by way of compensation for the loss of danger and strife in their interpretation of the form. Lustre for instance have a distinct and unmistakable aesthetic, Midnight Odyssey have atmosphere to spare and can write a riff with at least some character when it counts. Even bands like Winterfylleth – who do more than flirt with the musical catharsis of post black metal – still compose each track to a rigid set of structured rules that make the purpose and motivation clearly understood by the listener, even if their formula is now weighted by predictability.

But on ‘…to the past’ we get the worst of all worlds. The danger, jeopardy, and excitement is sucked out of the black metal aesthetic. The riffs – which are really just generic rock chord sequences – lack any defining characteristics by way of compromise for this loss. Minimalism could be plugged as a virtue, but one cannot give Cosmic Burial the benefit of the doubt even in this regard, because there is no indication that they understand the virtue of minimalism as a compositional tool for communicating more than the sum of the parts.

Even if we take these pieces as sickly-sweet indie pop (it’s some people’s bag after all), I doubt even the most forgiving indie fan would be able to put up with this format for the ten minutes that each track asks us to spend with it. Even the most sickening indie music offers novel musical hooks to engage with.

These lazy and flat compositions– varying little throughout the album’s runtime – immediately invoke suspicion in the listener. They come across as a façade, a glowing billboard promising much and delivering little. Like a TV ad that attempts to tug at the heart strings or the cheap narrative tricks deployed in the writing room of a Hollywood romcom, this comes across as desperately pandering to multifaceted human emotions that the artist is simply not equipped to convey through music.

The music we hate is often closest to the music we love. We hate Cradle of Filth far more than we do comrade Britney Spears for instance, because CoF play a style that neighbours the metal we love, we recognise elements within their music that we like, but in a setting where everything else is wrong.

‘…to the past’ bears comparison to post black metal, a style well known for inducing boredom dressed up as profundity. But even if we put a different hat on an assess the merits of post black metal on its own terms this album falls flat. And the reason for provoking all this revulsion could be boiled down to the failed attempt at sentiment. This looks like music at its most emotionally vulnerable with zero heart. It falls utterly short of actually conveying anything meaningful about the human condition. It’s not that Cosmic Burial is not “true enough” or “dark enough”, it simply fails on its own terms.

Originally published at Hate Meditations