Review: Stormland — The Human Cost

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Lyrics and theming can add a lot to my enjoyment of an album. The Human Cost’s Gundam-derived themes of the psychological and physical horrors a government will put people through to contort them into killing machines add a visceral thrill to the riffs for me, as does the paradoxical enjoyment of the thrills of combat. As to the latter feeling, Stormland has long channeled that Bolt Thrower, adrenaline-in-the-fight feeling, without aping Bolt Thrower’s sound. This is Stormland’s best attempt yet to persuade the metalliterati who haven’t watched Gundam yet to watch Gundam.

At the risk of sounding like a metal PR front, this album really deserves some attention.

Stormland’s newest album, The Human Cost, is billed as progressive technical death metal. That’s not at all inaccurate, but it also doesn’t tell you the whole picture, and that’s a good thing if you’re looking for an album with a more distinctive sound. Not only that, but The Human Cost has a somewhat different sound than the band’s previous work. The band has always had some brutal death moments, but some slam elements come to play in The Human Cost, with breakdowns and jackhammer blasts – none other than Exhumed’s Ross Sewage emerges from the pipes for a guest vocal spot on “Rebuilt For Your Whims”, and Pierrot lists Hideous Divinity, Suffocation, and Abysmal Dawn as slamspirations. But just as the prog-tech death label isn’t an exhaustive ingredient list, neither is this a brutal/slam album. The slam elements are just one part of an album with a lot of stylistic variety, but the songs always come together well – sole band member Justin Pierrot always writes a satisfying, cohesive song. There are memorable choruses and hooks that don’t wear out their welcome, and plenty of melody to hold onto within the eye of the, uh . . . storm.

While not as powerful as the varied and memorable guitarwork, Pierrot’s vocals have continued to develop. It’s impressive how intelligible the lyrics are in his death metal growl. They’re not too static either — there’s some nice panning and doubling here and there. They mesh really well with the Ross Sewage spot, and there’s great interplay with the tortured howls of Leda Paige of The Hallowed CatharsisJisei, and Sissy XO on “Test Subject”. The drums are programmed, if that bothers you, but they are written very well. Pierrot may not be a drummer, but he’s put in the work to know how drummers actually play.

As with the slamdowns, prog elements are there, but I wouldn’t think to call it a prog album. There are bouncing, syncopated techy bits, laidback jazzy breaks, and touches of discordant Putrescine skronk, but it’s really just a Stormland album through and through. As such, the sequencing of the album’s tracks has a satisfying journey to it. We always get an introspective break from the brutality right when we need it, and the melodic riffs that start to show up halfway through the album take center stage at the end. I’m a sucker for an album structured like that. They leave me a lot more satisfied than, and they’re a lot more memorable than, a standard death metal album where the last song could have been any other song on the album. In fact, the moments of relaxation and triumph present in the last two tracks reminds me of the emotional arc of the best of the Georgia sludge albums. The riff that ends ‘bum closer “Beyond Gravity, Outside Time” makes me feel like I’m listening to Baroness’s Blue galloping triumphantly to a close, and while not a Geo-slo ref, the riff that opens the song proper reminds me of the playfulness of Stemage. As the best albums do, The Human Cost leaves you feeling good and wanting more.

The Human Cost is out on Friday, September 30. You can buy the album on Bandcamp here.

 

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