AN NCS ALBUM PREMIERE (AND A REVIEW): CICADA THE BURROWER — “CORPSEFLOWER”
Sometime in the middle of next month billions of so-called Brood X cicadas will emerge from the earth for the first time in 17 years, blanketing areas of the eastern and midwestern United States and lending their engine-revving cacophonies to the sounds of daily life. Theories abound as to why these periodic cicadas emerge during these synchronized moments separated by so many years, but no one really knows. It’s an evolutionary mystery.
But regardless of the reason, it’s fitting that on the eve of this great emergence Cicada the Burrower will be releasing an album that in itself represents the emergence of something new — the result of years of stylistic experimentation by the band’s sole creator Cameron Davis. It certainly represents a departure for us, because although the songs on Corpseflower incorporate recognizable metal ingredients, the sounds and styles extend well beyond conventional metal boundaries, resulting in an unusual and unusually captivating collage of contrasts.
Among the metal ingredients, you’ll encounter the haze and slash of distorted guitars and vocals that veer from scarring black-metal shrieks to maddened howls and savage roars (with some gloomy recitals and a small amount of singing in the mix as well). These ingredients tend to create moods of tension and turmoil. But beyond that, the rest of the collage differs dramatically.
The interplay of the tumbling and skipping drums and the warm hum of the bass is persistently inventive and compulsively head-moving, but it’s more entrancing than it is adrenaline-fueling, and at times there’s a jazz-like influence in the rhythmic patterns. The guitar and keyboard performances also sometimes recall jazz fusion, but also present aspects of prog and psychedelia — and the tone of those sounds is light years away from extreme metal.
You’ll get an immediate sense of this in the opening track, “The Fever Room”, which is introduced by a glimmering swirl of bright, ethereal notes and flickering bird-like tones. Similarly, although “Glamour” includes its share of raking, abrasive guitars and bursts of tremolo’d mania, what stands out is the effervescence of the pinging keyboards and ringing arpeggios — and all of those multiple motifs turn out to be ear-worms.
Slow and silky guitar reverberations (backed by yet another captivating drum-and-bass combo) quickly mark “Where Old Crystals Grow” before the harsh vocals intrude with strangled shrieks and ferocious roars, which create a feeling of torment within the invigorating brightness of those other sounds.
“Psilocybin Death Spiral” might be the most harrowing track on Corpseflower — the abrasive riffing in this one creates a roiling and feverish sensation — but the slow, moody guitar melody that surfaces and re-surfaces proves to be mesmerizing.
The title track is by far the album’s longest one, and although it closes the album it’s also its centerpiece. Almost entirely instrumental, it moves through a cycle of repeating sequences. In one, propelled by a slow beat, shining guitar chords and piano and other keyboard notes create a seductive experience, highlighted by a soulful arpeggio and the shimmer of feathered cymbals. In another, abrasive riffing crashes in and poisonously seethes, as the drums begin to tumble and the bass throbs in an almost funky beat. And in still another, harrowing, howling, and jolting riffage seems to channel emotional turbulence and pain.
Not all of our usual visitors will embrace this album, precisely because it would rank low on an “extremity” scale — Cameron Davis herself refers to the music as a blend of “adult contemporary and black metal” (she also suggests that it may appeal to fans of Deafheaven, Oranssi Pazuzu, and A Pregnant Light) — but I hope many of you free spirits will enjoy it as much as I have. It was created after Cameron came out as a transgender woman, and thus represents an attempt to express the feelings of “pain, self-discovery, and cautious hope” that come with being transgender.
The album will be released on April 23rd (cassette and digital). All proceeds will be donated to the ACLU.
This was incredible. You’re right in spades about the earworms in Glamour; not sure what it’s going to take to get those hooks out of my head (and I’m very ok with that).
Ditto. Fully agree with the previous poster.