Job for a Cowboy
Sun Eater (2nd Review)

Never judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, don’t write off a band simply because they have a goofy name and used to be a scenester deathcore act. ‘Cause holy hell, this cowboy has learned some new tricks at the rodeo.

Granted, that’s because the band that catapulted to MySpace stardom and a Metal Blade signing back in 2005 is long gone, aside from vocalist Jonny Davy, the lone remaining founding member. The latest incarnation of Job for a Cowboy has since been fleshed out with former members of Cephalic Carnage and Despised Icon (plus session drummer Danny Walker of Intronaut), and they’ve brought new elements and styles with them. And while 2012’s Demonocracy wove some melody and complexity into its speedy attack, the balance has been completely upended on Sun Eater, resulting in a sound somewhere between progressive and technical death. Whatever you wanna label it, it sure ain’t deathcore anymore.

Oh sure, you’ll hear fragments and chunks of ‘core here and there – burly breakdowns and cavernous growls – but they’re mostly eclipsed by a stunning palette that pulls far more from death metal masters like Cynic, Death, Opeth, and Morbid Angel than any of the band’s former multi-word splattered-graphic T-shirt-slinging peers.

The songwriting across Sun Eater is unpredictable and amorphous, the atmosphere murky and forbidding. Guitars have a bright and prismatic coldness, alternating between moody riffs and post-metal ambient shimmers, while the basslines – with Focus’ classic warble – are the undulating, roiling currents beneath the waves. Vocals are equally as mercurial, changing tone and delivery often instead of always going for the throat as on the band’s earlier releases. And not a pig squeal to be found; I like pig vocals just fine – love ’em on this year’s Benighted – but the goal here seems more to be restraint than all-out-craziness.

In fact, it’s that interplay between control and creativity that’s most impressive about Sun Eater. I’ve listened to each of the opening two tracks a dozen times now, simply because of their unusual and hypnotic structures, and the way that the guitars, bass, and drums coil and twist amidst the wreckage of the band’s former sound. The moody and mid-paced “Eating the Visions of God” was a bold choice to kick off the album, showing that the band is more interested in making a statement and showcasing their new direction rather than simply going for a brutal stance. “Sun of Nihility” slithers into some busier, more technical passages, and the opening guitar riffs – mysterious at first, then epic, stalking, doom-laden – recall Opeth in their glory days. Both tracks also boast fluid, soulful leads and solos which are very, very un-core (producer Jason Suecof contributes some killer work on “Sun of Nihility.”)

Subsequent tracks like “The Stone Cross,” The Synthetic Sea,” and “A Global Shift” crank the energy level a lot higher, similar to the frenetic pace of Demonocracy, but again, that sound has been melted down and reforged here into even more elaborate technical death. Think Obscura or The Faceless, with the busy fluidity of the former, and yet none of the latter’s recent and overcooked eccentricities. And the surprises aren’t over yet. “Buried Monuments,” which comes late in the album, opens with neoclassical power-metal melodies and bravado, then pulls it through as a lively contrast to the brutal stutter-and-lurch across the rest of the track.

As with any worthy tech or progressive death album, Sun Eater eventually coheres after multiple and dedicated listens, and so I expect I’ll be returning to this one pretty often. And while I’ve found a lot of unique, exciting, challenging albums in 2014 to get lost in, it comes as a great surprise that a former deathcore band will also make that list, thanks to an impressive release with layered and interesting songs, dense atmosphere, varied pacing and structure, and moments of flat-out awesome musicianship. Now, about that name…

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
December 8th, 2014

Comments

  1. Commented by: Luke_22

    Never been a fan of the band’s previous work but this one is quite the accomplished piece of work. Much improved songwriting and killer musicianship. One of the surprise packets of the year.


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