(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by Germany’s Cranial, which will be released on September 27th by Moment of Collapse.)
It’s either an incredibly ballsy, or completely coincidental, move for German sludgemongers Cranial to put out Alternate Endings just one week after Post-Metal titans Cult of Luna released their new, long-awaited album, A Dawn to Fear.
After all, there’s only so much time, money, and mental energy available to potential listeners, and big releases like ADtF do tend to monopolise people’s attention for a long time both before and after they come out (heck, this is exactly why you often see movies getting pushed back or bumped up… no-one wants to go up against Star Wars at the box office unless they really have to after all!).
I’m inclined to think that it was a purposeful move by the Bavarian quartet though, as not only did they explicitly select CoL’s Magnus Lindberg to master their new record, but each of the four songs presented here is written and performed with such brash, bullish confidence that I can’t imagine any of the members of Cranial were at all worried about being compared to their Swedish brethren!
There are good reasons for the group to be confident, too. As while there are a few similarities between Alternate Endings and A Dawn to Fear – mainly the occasional splash of sci-fi synths or striking, semi-clean backing vocals – it has to be said that what Cranial offer is a much heavier, much more aggressive album that leans far more into the Sludge than the Post-Metal side of things.
And while this may make it less atmospheric and artistic than ADtF, what AE potentially lacks in breadth of sound it more than makes up for in depth and density, and those of you willing to dig deep into the album’s many layers will find echoes of the wicked weight of Phantom Winter (who, much like Cranial, contain ex-members of Omega Massif) and the Industrial-tinged Sludge-Grind of Leeched, as well as the more traditional Neurosis/Isis influences.
With only four tracks on offer (the shortest of which clocks in at just over eight-and-a-half minutes, the longest a little under sixteen) there’s not a lot of margin for error on Alternate Endings, as any song that doesn’t live up to its full potential will therefore have a major impact on the album’s overall quality.
Thankfully each one has a distinct identity of its own, and is more than capable of standing in isolation, while also playing its part in the greater whole.
Opener “Faint Voice”, for example, is an absolute monster, and quickly (or, at least, as quickly as possible for a song that extends to a whopping twelve-and-a-half minutes) sets the tone for the rest of the album going forwards, largely eschewing the classic “quiet/loud” model of songwriting (except for a few passing moments in the song’s second half) in favour of a dynamic based around constantly increasing the heft and heaviness of the music, such that even when you think the band have maxed out how heavy they can possibly go they somehow find a way to get even heavier still.
“Unceasing Lack” (arguably the album’s best track, although colossal closer “Holistic Figure” comes close) continues the band’s quest to realise the platonic ideal of heaviness in physical form, while also adding some even bigger hooks and some even spikier dissonance to their formula, while the pneumatic pulse of “Burning Bridges” demonstrates that the band’s decision to exchange some of their earlier, more atmospheric tendencies for an even bigger dose of industrial-strength sludgery (as well as some even thicker, meatier bass lines) was definitely the right choice.
Final track, the aforementioned “Holistic Figure”, is perhaps the one song that doesn’trely solely on pure, back-breaking heaviness (not that it’s lacking in this regard) to get its message across, offering a simmering slow-burn (driven by the rolling percussive patterns provided by drummer, and possessor of a name so good I can’t quite believe it’s real, Cornelius Merlin) for the song’s first few minutes that eventually transforms into a thunderous squall of humongous, primordial riffs and howling, primal screams which, barring the occasional moment of relative calm, then proceeds to slowly but relentlessly crush you down into your component atoms by virtue of its sheer sonic weight.
Make no mistake about it, this is a (pardon my French) fucking monolithic sounding album, absolutely unflinching and unrelenting in its pursuit of pure, unadulterated heaviness.
Just promise me one thing – if you do pick up a copy when it’s released this Friday, make sure you don’t drop it. I’m not sure the earth could take an impact like that right now.
CRANIAL ON FACEBOOK: