First Listen: Cormorant, 'Dwellings' Dwellings is an emotionally and musically complex metal album about the pursuit of immortality.
NPR logo First Listen: Cormorant, 'Dwellings'

First Listen: Cormorant, 'Dwellings'

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Tommy Ferguson


Tommy Ferguson

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"All things must pass away."

Humanity's pursuit of immortality inspired both the unknown author of Matthew (24:35) and George Harrison to capture our feeble attempts to preserve a legacy — securing their own in the process. According to Cormorant bassist, vocalist and lyricist Arthur von Nagel, it's a theme which runs throughout Dwellings, from French tightrope walker Philipe Petit to Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre, in a progressive metal record that adds to a legacy in its own right.

From the pronounced clarion chords and Four Horsemen-like drums that open "The First Man," Dwellings — out Dec. 6 — is every bit as ambitious and seeking as its immortal subjects. Like its peers and Bay Area counterparts in Ludicra (RIP), Giant Squid and Hammers of Misfortune, folk, classical and all strains of metal are available to Cormorant for dismantling and rebuilding.

Death- and black-metal lies at the base here, with tremolo-picked guitars, growled vocals and furious blast beats. But Cormorant lets the songs breathe when necessary, allowing strummed melodies, choir-like vocals and wistful guitar solos to evolve an organic, non-linear narrative arc. For a band which features four supremely talented musicians — each capable of ridiculous shredding — it makes moments in "The First Man," the swinging "Funambulist" and the NPR-story-inspired "Junta" resonate that much more. In an interview from this past September, Arthur von Nagel said, "Shred is not for me, but on some level we're on the precipice of that ourselves, I would assume. As long as technicality serves as a tool to convey a feeling, I'm okay with it." That's the kind of approach that made the late Chuck Schuldiner of Death such a gifted and innovative songwriter, and Cormorant ably carries it on in his absence.

Dwellings is, far and away, the best metal record of 2011: an emotionally and musically complex album which wrestles with our desperate and sometimes violent attempts to secure a place in history. And, while several year-end lists in the coming weeks will certainly offer some brief recognition (mine included), Cormorant's Dwellings deserves the long play.