Dark Tower / Bright Lights by CranialRelease date: February 10, 2017
Label: Moment of Collapse Records
Omega Massif were awesome. The band hailed from Germany and played an epic, brooding instrumental post-metal, all cold angles and big spaces, very reminiscent of mid period Neurosis. Their 2011 opus Karpatia has been a staple on my stereo for years, and it was a sad time when the band called in quits in 2014.
Fast forward to 2017 and the ashes of Omega Massif have given rise to no less than three new acts – stoner sludge from Blacksmoker (who also have a new album in my review pile at the moment), the apocalyptic blackened sludge of Phantom Winter and now Cranial, who are about to release their debut full length record, Dark Towers / Bright Lights, following a two track EP in 2016. So what does it sound like, and does it live up to the Omega Massif legacy?
The ‘Tl-dr’ review is ‘awesome, and yes, go and buy it’, which is perfectly valid, but why don’t we delve a little deeper? Cranial are the first of the three bands to really grab the Omega Massif legacy and expand it further, taking the earlier influence from Neurosis and expanding this with a strong Amenra feel, aided hugely by the addition of anguished vocals. The album follows the pattern established by debut EP Dead Ends, with four long form songs – the shortest song scrapes the 11 minute mark – bathing the listener in swathes of doom and crashing waves of furious sludge.
The opening track ‘Dark’ is a grinding piece that opens with chiming feedback and gentle synth, which is faintly reminiscent of Cult of Luna’s Vertikal album in tone, before dropping into a mid-tempo riff, led by a tribal drumming pattern. The pace does not drop with the transition into another huge sludgy riff; the intensity increases with the addition of bellowing vocals in the vein of Neurosis. Mid way through the song there’s a short drop that’s weirdly evocative of an early Deftones song, bringing some post-hardcore chops to a gradual build-up that gets darker and darker in tone and which pays off spectacularly with the drop of a massive Neurosis-in-their-prime-would-have-been-proud-of-this-one riff. Again, the sparse vocals are used to great effect, colouring the sound and building the intensity. The song closes on a great riff topped with a Tom Morello style guitar sound. It’s a hell of an opener, and does not feel like nearly 12 minutes of material.
Second song ‘Towers’ follows a similar template; emotive synth-y opening giving way to frenetic riffs and brutal vocals. The first section feels like a whirlwind winding up, with an almost black metal vibe running through the guitar parts before cutting the volume to leave a near-clean section of driving riffs. The pace drops to that a snail in the mid-section, bringing the song firmly into doom territory and proving that Cranial can master this genre too; the simple riff feels incredibly powerful and when it finally disintegrates to feedback and distorted bass it feels quite cathartic, but for the anticipation as the feedback gives way to a slow build. This section crescendos beautifully into a lumbering, grinding riff that sees the song out wonderfully.
There’s a lot to love about this album. The songs are well structured and cleverly put together, and although they are long, at no point do they drag. There’s a welcome dynamism to them and a use of light and shade. The production helps this massively; the guitars are raw and massive, the bass chugs away and the percussion is clear and big. The vocals add an emotive texture and there’s a wonderful feeling of humanity about the whole album; its texture, the warmth of the sound and the edges of the performance feel authentic, epic and real.
If I had a criticism, I’d say that the songs follow a similar template, with tracks 3 and 4 (‘Bright’ and ‘Lights’ respectively) following a similar structure and hitting the same emotional beats to the first two – but this really doesn’t matter. All the tracks have their stand out moments – take the riff in the middle of ‘Bright’ for example – it chugs magnificently and had me bobbing my head at my desk while pulling a riff-face on more than one occasion.
I think it’s fair to say that this record doesn’t do anything spectacularly innovative either; what it does do though, it does extremely well. As a result, if you’re a fan of the post-metal / sludge or related genres, if you’ve ever professed a liking for Cult of Luna, Isis, Amenra or Neurosis, then you absolutely should pick this up; I guarantee you’ll find something to love in its dense tones.