Cormorant - Earth Diver

There was, quite understandably, a fair amount of concern among fans of San Francisco’s progressive black metallers Cormorant when the band announced that they intended to continue on after vocalist/fretless bassist/lyricist Arthur von Nagel left the band in 2012 to work on the Walking Dead video game adaptation for Telltale Games. The headline on MetalSucks about his departure was ‘Cormorant leaves Cormorant,’ and they likened his leaving to Trent Reznor leaving Nine Inch Nails or Glen Benton leaving Deicide. That might be overstating things a bit, but there was little question that the band without von Nagel was going to be a different beast entirely. The only real question is whether it would still be a good band; their last album with von Nagel, 2011’s Dwellings was released to near-universal acclaim, topping many year-end best of lists (including NPR’s) despite being released independently through the group’s Bandcamp page.

With the release of Earth Diver, the band’s first effort with new vocalist/bassist Marcus Luscome, we now have an answer to that question, and it is a resounding yes. Certainly blacker than their previous work but no less progressive, Cormorant has released an album that brings to mind post-Below the Lights Enslaved and mid-period Opeth (especially Blackwater Park and Damnation). I realize full well that sounds like hyperbole, but this album is incredibly solid from the first note to the last.

I want to highlight in particular the middle portion of the album, which is particularly stunning. Third track “Sold as a Crow” starts with a lovely clean guitar section before erupting into one of the album’s more furious straight-forward black metal songs; it reminds me more than a little bit of Woe’s masterful Withdrawl, except that it takes a turn near the end for a pair of 70’s hard ruck-style guitar solos. The next track, “Waking Sleep” has the same Pink Floyd-meets-black metal vibe of the last few Enslaved albums, before making an Opeth-esque shift into some really melodic alternating clean/heavy passages with some pronounced keyboard work. “The Pythia” has a very NWOBHM-sounding main riff and a galloping middle section that sounds like a blackened take on early Iron Maiden. “Broken Circle” opens sounding like it could have been an outtake from Opeth’s Damnation before moving into some of the proggiest black metal on the album.

While there are still several more boundary-pushing black metal albums on the docket this year that I’m really looking forward to (the new Atlas Moth record being chief among them) I don’t know if any of them are going to top this one. You can stream the entire album here. I recommend listening to it on headphones; there’s a lot going on in these songs that you might otherwise miss. Or you can just head over to their Bandcamp page (they’ve gone the independent route again) and buy Earth Diver either digitally or on CD.