While most current death metal acts are looking either forward or backward, Philly’s Azure Emote takes us on a trip sideways with their second full-length, The Gravity of Impermanence. Mastermind, Mike Hrubovcak (vocalist for Monstrosity, Vile, Divine Rapture, and Abraxas and illustrator for numerous other bands), conducts a slew of talented musicians along with core members, Ryan Moll (Rumpelstiltskin Grinder, Divine Rapture) on guitar and Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) on drums, to create this adventurous, expansive work of death metal art that greatly improves upon their ‘07 debut, Chronicles of an Aging Mammal, in every conceivable way. However, your appreciation of this new journey will depend on your taste for the bizarre and willingness to devote the time needed to grasp its many components.
Their surreal riffs and creative drumming rooted in technical Floridian death metal (e.g., Nocturnus, Monstrosity, Brutality) would be interesting enough on their own, but Mr. Hrubovcak strives for much more through the integration of operatic female vocals, keyboards, violins, saxophones, sound bites, and various other electronic sounds. This could easily be a recipe for disaster, but he miraculously managed to focus it all into a powerful attack that’s full of both ridiculously awesome and awesomely ridiculous moments. It helps that the song structures aren’t as off-the-wall as the instrumentation. Each track is composed of repeating forms for maximum memorability (relatively speaking), but it’s still overwhelming upon first listen at an hour in length with very little filler.
Opener, “Epoch of De-Evolution,” starts off in slightly uncomfortable fashion — especially while the Illud Divinum Insanus debacle still lingers in recent memory — with some techno synths, but the complex guitar and drum work quickly proves that the approach here is far more creative. The mood is almost upbeat, much like that of Strapping Young Lad or The Senseless until “Carpe Diem” introduces a more subdued (again, relatively speaking), dreamy atmosphere with twinkling keys, operatic female vocals, and beautiful violin work provided by Pete Johansen of The Sins of Thy Beloved. His style is more raw and lively than the somber approach you hear most often from violins in metal, which adds another unique dimension to the music when it appears throughout the album. “Marching Forth” lives up to its name as it propels the album forward with some massive crescendos until the downright annoying sounds of freeform harmonica and pig squeals (actual, not the vocal style) bring everything to a grinding halt in brief instrumental, “Sunrise Slaughter,” the only glaring flaw on the album. The Lykathea Aflame-esque “Conduit of Atrophy” quickly gets things back on track and “Veils of Looming Despair” will make you grin in disbelief when it kicks off with a collision of pulsing techno, violins, operatic female vocals, and death metal like you’ve never heard before. “Dissent” is probably the most straightforward and deathly, but it’s not without its own quirkiness. Saxophones courtesy of Bruce Lamont of Yakuza are added to the mix in “The Living Spiral” as it channels Khaooohs-era Pan-Thy-Monium, a project whose influence can be felt throughout the album in spirit if not always in style. Nearly every remaining track offers something else surprising and new, ranging from the wild sci-fi keyboard explosions of “Annunaki Illuminati” to the sublime interplay of guitar and violin in album closer, “Puppet Deities.” And, the production provided by Ron Vento (Aurora Borealis) at Nightsky Studios allows every one of these crazy elements to be clearly heard without sounding overly processed.
Vocals are a big part of Hrubovcak’s equation. His commanding, guttural, yet intelligible voice dominates as he spews lyrics that are just as difficult to comprehend as the music while the operatic female vocals provide back-up and sometimes function more like another instrument. At times, sound bites are used almost like another vocalist and include clips from The Mist, The Walking Dead, Donnie Darko, and the misanthropic rantings of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Some clean male vocals in the vein of Burton C. Bell pop up in “Obsessive Time Directive” and “The Color of Blood” as if there wasn’t already enough variety, but it actually would’ve been nice to hear more like this throughout the album.
Above all, this is an album of contrast on many levels as it mixes both aggression and serenity, chaos and control, male and female, classic and modern, and somehow comes across as disjointed yet cohesive. It’s an incredible achievement that I fear will not receive the recognition it deserves since it’s likely too eccentric for most death metal fans, especially during this time when retro reigns supreme. But, I have a feeling that Mr. Hrubovcak doesn’t really care about popularity, and I’m glad for that. Otherwise, one of the most ambitious and unique albums in all of metal would’ve never been made.[Visit the band's website]