One man bands can be a double edged sword. On one hand, artists with a singular vision and the talent and drive to make that vision a reality can produce some stirring and powerful music. Within progressive music alone there are many singular voices that steer their proverbial ships, with Ihsahn, Devin Townsend, and Steven Wilson immediately coming to mind as some of the biggest and most accomplished in our modern context. While this dedication to craft and sheer ability is admirable, the flipside to being a lone musical architect places the onus upon the shoulders of one, with creative mileage varying depending on the individual. The peaks are their own to scale, the successes their own to enjoy, and the journey and canvas completely free and open to their vision, if they can pull it off.
To this end, Naeramarth, the brainchild of Utah based musician Gage Love, pulls the one man band act off with a style few I have heard can match. Love pulls it off so well in fact, that I didn’t realize I was listening to the product of one musician’s labors until reading the included album description well after my first listen. I assumed that, minus the drums (we’ll get to that soon), the project was the result of at least a handful of musicians going after a blend of progressive rock and atmospheric black-ish metal, among other stylistic forays off the beaten path. I was surprised and impressed upon the realization that Love was filling every role on display here with skillful flourish, not merely content with being “adequate”. The performances are uniformly exceptional throughout.
The first thing that stuck out were the vocals. One thing that I hear alot in bands that aim to utilize a mix of guttural and clean sung vocals, as Naeramarth do, is a failure of balance. Usually the gutturals are great, and the clean singing fails to live up to this standard. Love avoids this completely, and his clean voice is powerful and clear, in addition to being dynamic. While not a Russel Allen type vocalist, Love’s vocals are honest, and he really sells the nuance and emotion present in the lyrics. I really appreciated the fact that Love seems to know his limits, and also his strengths and weaknesses as a vocalist. This is one of the greatest assets a project like this can have, as records have been ruined for me by vocalist overreach in the past. The gutturals are throaty, with an inherent raspiness that echoes Enslaved’s Grutle, whose music I am sure is a huge influence on Love.
Musically, the record veers from epic and bombastic proto-symphonic themes, opener “Through the Cosmos I: Event Horizon” seems conjured from the same musical aether that early Haken tapped into on “Aquarius” and “Visions”, while later tracks bring more extreme metallic elements into play, treading the line between Ihsahn, Enslaved, and other reformed Scandinavian explorers. Vintage mellotron and synth float over huge melodic guitars, and the riffs remain pointed and purposeful, technical when the music demands it, and always tasty.
One thing remains consistent though: a strong sense of prevailing melody and an overarching devotion to balancing the heavier and harder side of the music with more gentle passages. Nothing is done in an overbearing way, the music really breathes, and Love never gets “too” heavy. This is to the record’s benefit, and he really seems to grasp the type of record he wanted to make. Mid album track “Luminous Beings” sees a great use of guest and Ihsahn and Shining alum Jorgen Munkeby on melodic saxophone, and I thought the added element was really well done overall, and actually added alot to the song.
Sixteen minute closer “Through the Cosmos II: The Arrival” serves as a truly epic culmination to the record, with grand peaks and valleys that exemplify the painstaking melodic-ism that came before. Alternating sections of calm and heavy really drive this point home. By the time the track ends, and the absolutely HUGE outro fades, I was satisfied with how Naeramarth were able to pull off a track like this. Not many bands can truth be told. It ends the record leaving the listener wanting more, and that is a great place to put your listeners in this genre of music.
If I have to gripe about one thing on “The Innumerable Stars”, it would have to be the aforementioned drums. While the necessity to use programmed and synthesized drums is an omnipresent reality, especially in regards to self-produced music, the end result can often be somewhat flat and lacking in dynamics. While the reality of programmed drums on the record isn’t a deal breaker for me, the absence of a real performer is notable, only for how much it sticks out in comparison with the rest of Love’s performance on the record. The music Naeramarth is producing needs that added element, and I think the extra layer of nuance and dynamic interplay would be enough to take the compositions over the top, and to the next level that seems very attainable after such a strong showing with “The Innumerable Stars”. I look forward to developments on this front of the band, as this was really the only point of contention I had with the record. Otherwise the mix is huge and punchy, well balanced and defined where it needs to be.
An impressive and dynamic showing overall, and one to add to the radar of impressive 2017 releases.
1. Through the Cosmos I: Event Horizon
4. Cabed Naeramarth
5. Luminous Beings
7. Lunar Sea
8. Through the Cosmos II: The Arrival