Nature is Beautiful (Vol. VII – Mamma(l) Mia!)
If you’re reading this, I already know a few things about you. You have a neocortex. Your brain is stringing along these abstract symbols into meaning. You’re a huge nerd whose neurons light up when you hear grown people screaming about J.R.R. Tolkien over guitars chords. Your species went to the moon (unless you ask Jon Schaffer) and built the hydrogen bomb. But there’s more to human identity than utterly dominating your surroundings to the detriment of your planet—you’re also a mammal.
Hair grows almost anywhere you don’t want it to (but that precancerous mole was so cold). Three bones vibrate in your ears when you hear those sweet, sweet blastbeats. One wrong move in the (dark) descent of the testicles through the inguinal canal during development and you’ve got Marilyn Manson writing a song about you. But mammalian life isn’t all sebaceous glands and lactation: there are fantastic specimens that stretch the boundaries of possibility and belief, and, as masters of adaptation, they can be found on every continent and in every ocean on Earth. So spin the globe with me, stop its rotation with an opposable thumb and let’s find something incredible.
Etruscan Shrew – Metabolism
You’re all about that grind. Your band recorded a cover of Napalm Death‘s “You Suffer,” but renamed it to “You” and cut the time in half. When your sweaty friends ask you to turn on the A.C., you ask “which album?” Your library of 100,000 songs is stored on an 8 MB flash drive from 2000. As a human, your bursts of speed, your extremity—farces all. The Etruscan Shrew knows a thing or two about the struggle we call life. To start, they die if they don’t eat every hour (no, not American hours). That’s a crunchy cricket every 60 minutes or bust, prey literally the size of their predator, killed with a single bite to the noggin. Still feeling extreme? Your drummer can play a sloppy blast pretty quick, but the Etruscan shrew’s heart beats 1,200 times a minute (or 20 times a second). How could you possibly compete with this critter that weighs as much as a dime? Get working on that Sleep résumé.
The Hallowed Catharsis‘ Killowner carries an energy similar to the rapidity of the shrew. Where their previous releases included progressive, epic-length tracks (“Solar Cremation, “Jetsam”), their newest record is split into bite-sized morsels that carry the calorie content of an entire LP. The title track is a panic attack in auditory form, all tempo shifts and nauseating bursts of deathgrind dissonance. When Leda Paige’s skramz vocals introduce a remixed riff from earlier in the EP, it’s a poignant reminder that a lot can happen in 15 minutes. That’s 25% of a lifetime if you’re not out there hunting!
Western Long-beaked Echidna – Monotreme
Ahh, the treasure trove that is the “avant-garde” label; with a single phrase, you procure an unlimited passport for navel-gazing. One of your Caucasian bandmates has dreadlocks and plays a guitar with so many strings it’s technically in the harp family. Every idea is a final draft, and self-editing goes against your spiritual beliefs. If you’d ever bothered reading Joseph Slambell’s The Hero with a Thousand (Hammer-smashed) Faces, you’d know your most irreverent concepts are as mundane as Mudvayne.
The Western Long-beaked Echidna, one of four living species of monotremes (Greek for “single hole,” look it up on your own time, perv) is a true pioneer in experimental construction, betraying mammalian conventions with gusto. Its brain appears reptilian, lacking a corpus callosum to connect its hemispheres, and their vitellogenin genes, shared with birds, allow them to lay eggs (another unique trait of monotremes). Their legs include vestigial (you know, like bassists in metal) spurs, they use electrolocation to sense objects, and males have a 4-headed penis. On the surface, the echidna appears to be an evolutionary grab-bag, a collection of bizarre stats, but that’s just island biogeography for you. They may waddle, but they manage to get from point A to point B in one piece, unlike your compositions.
By the time Raphaël Fournier starts dropping bars half-way through Creature‘s “Atlantis,” listeners won’t question it for a second. The preceding slurry of choral arrangements, brass ornamentation and melodic death metal is so obviously a beautiful mess that while strange and unexpected, the rapped verse fits right into the bizarre world of Ex Cathedra. A common pitfall when artists combine disparate styles is leaving the skeleton half-formed in favor of panache and density; thankfully, Creature begins with a solid foundation of melodeath before constructing the rest of this peculiar edifice. Rest assured, the guitars riff just as hard as the trumpets.
Leopard Seal – Antarctic Apex Predator
You are the apex predator in this unforgiving habitat: Public Transit, Bus 43B. Stalking your kingdom, you see an 80-year old woman with a walker, a teenager recording a video on TikTok, and a mother with three children; bags under her eyes betray her lack of sleep and the divorce papers she signed this morning. When your phone rings as planned (a call from your friend, Khristfvkköphager), the intro vocals to Behemoth’s “Slaves Shall Serve” shatter the relative quiet. Looks of confusion and general annoyance center on you, and you’re able to display your plumage in full (your precious Tomb of the Mutilated shirt that you still wear out even though you’re pushing 30). A grin reveals your canines, for you have trapped your quarry. You have shown them the violence of real music.
Compared to the Leopard Seal, your attempts at intimidation appear even more asinine. In the truly desolate Antarctic landscape, this 12 ft. seal stalks its penguin prey just below the surface as it circles sheets of ice. Its fur is counter-shaded (dark on the top, light on the bottom) for extra camouflage, and it kills prey by grabbing it by the feet and slamming it into the surface of the water repeatedly. Not even the depths can protect the penguins; leopard seals can collapse their own lungs, allowing them to dive up to 240 feet in search of sustenance. Increased production of surfactants prevents the seals from experiencing decompression sickness (“the bends”) on their return trip to the surface.
The start-stop riffing that introduces Well of Night‘s “Apex and Eschaton” places listeners directly in the jaws of the leopard seal—blunt palm-mutes and thrashing tremolos emulate our blackened death throes. All parts of the hunt are documented, from the dire melodies of the chase (a brief moment of hope for those pursued), to the doomed, denuded bones sinking to the ocean floor. At 45 minutes, The Lower Planes of Self-Abstraction is a bit long in the teeth for a blackened death metal album, but Well of Night season their penguin patties with just the right amount of influences and surprises to keep the meal savory all the way through.
Leopard seal image courtesy of Chadica (click image for Flickr link).