Tuesday, 27 February 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Lowered, "Lowered"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 01/02/2018 | TBC
Label: Indpendent |
Throne Records (LP)

"There’s a progressive element running through this self-titled debut, but it’s not full on prog metal, and while there are lurching, sludgy, doom inflected passages, the overall style skews closer to black metal with strong melodic overtones.  

“Lowered” DD//LP track listing

1. Semaphore
2. Unreal
3. Blame the Hunger for the Throat
4. Call of the Moon

The Review:        
Describing hybrid metal genres may be the ultimate cringe activity.  Whenever “gaze” or “blackened” or “symphonic” or “melodic” gets appended to some agreed upon metal genre, all the trve kvlt tryhards come out to “WELL ACTUALLY” all over the description (often throwing in a smattering of homophobic slurs).  It’s the shallow, reddit redpill subculture of modern metal, but there is a case for staking out new descriptions, especially when black, groove, and death metal have been so amalgamated that there are few “pure” modern examples that don’t consciously push for “throwback” status. 

There was a brief period where “Extreme Metal” was slapped on bands as disparate as Cradle of Filth, Napalm Death, Gojira, and Behemoth – I blame Kerrang and the other trashy UK metal mags of the era.  Frankly it sounds a little too late 90s/early 2000s limited edition Mountain Dew flavor to me.  I’ve heard the term “dark metal” bandied about recently, and maybe that’s the best modifier for a group like Lowered.  There’s a progressive element running through their self-titled debut, but it’s not full on prog metal, and while there are lurching, sludgy, doom inflected passages, the overall style skews closer to black metal with strong melodic overtones.  Regardless of how the album FITS into a glutted field, there is no doubt that Lowered is one of those rare genre mashup debuts that feels assured, distinct, and never gimmicky.
Opener “Semaphore” rides on absolutely sickening low end bass tones sprawled across a doomy soundscape – it had me thinking of Celtic Frost, until the band slams into double time, chugging blackened rhythms.  Vocalist Anna Vo is an expert metal screamer – pushing her voice to extremes but remaining somewhat comprehensible.  I could make out a good deal of the words even without a lyric sheet, and that doesn’t diminish her inhuman capacity.  Most importantly, she shows dynamic range on the record, pushing out low death growls and piercing screams with aplomb.  Nate McCleary, who handles all guitars and basswork on the record, is a surprisingly virtuosic shredder, and his brief forays into tech wizardry put a unique stamp on Lowered’s sound that never feels forced.
Drummer Ian Makau owns the second track, “Unreal”, sprinting through marathon blast beats and throwing in little rhythmic twists that show true mastery of the kit.  The tribal shift in the mid-song bridge is a stroke of genius, while the doom coda is soul-crushing.  “Blame the Hunger for the Throat” is a slab of blackened death that continues to pummel, and is only slightly less interesting than the other tracks on the record.  Vo’s delivery is the best feature of the song – it’s a truly gut-wrenching performance.
“Call of the Moon” is the apotheosis of Lowered’s capacities.  McCleary’s eastern-tinged open guitar chords and shrill riffs are hypnotic, especially over Makau’s militaristic pounding.  There's a particular beauty in the guitar dynamics on this track, with soaring harmonies and deft solo work.  The abruptly sludgy bridge is a great twist on the tightly controlled black metal precision, especially as the track moves toward a stirring crescendo.  The broken-sounding coda seemed like overkill at first, but with subsequent listens I’ve found it especially stirring.  Lowered achieves a rare feat for most groups who never write tracks below the 6 minute mark: they had me clamoring for more.  I hope this debut carries them toward further output, further experimentation, and greater exposure – they’ve certainly earned it.

“Lowered” is available here

Band info: bandcamp