It’s frustrating to know when a friend or loved one is holding something back from you. It’s tangible in the air, and the unspoken tension is palpable. Such is the feeling emanating from A Storm of Light’s latest opus ‘Anthroscene’, an album packed with clever, promising moments but a sense of withholding.

Prime Time kicks in with 30 seconds of 80’s horror/action movie style synth into palm-muted chugs. Hushed vocals give a Marilyn Manson feel, held back cautiously with tinkling piano and a distorted and slow bass riff. Yep, this is nothing like the stoner/post-metal of prior releases. Grating vocals give a bit more sneer to the track, but it doesn’t move quickly. This lumbering but rocking opening would be equally fit on a Helmet, Prong or Jesus Lizard alt-rock record.

So far, so good, but nothing hard-hitting.

Ringing in with wailing feedback, Blackout signals those signature tsunami-sized post-metal riffs, channeling YOB but with a more light-hearted feel. Dystopian lyrics abound above the head-bobbing chugs and bouncy bass lines, drums providing extra crash and size as the song swells with more of an epic feel.  Lines such as “America the sick and crumbling/Liberty, she’s weeping” leave little guess to the conceptual base of the song (and indeed, album).

Again, the track hits almost satisfyingly close to the post-metal crush of before but decides to subside just as things get gargantuan, which unfortunately leaves a fair bit to be desired. Even the strained leads of the breakdown riffs barely pull the pulse above meandering.

The slow, heavily distorted chords that open Short Term Feedback alongside rolling drums imply a bit of a pace-changer, or so we hope. Jagged leads cut in to provide a bit more evilness to the intro, but then the track wavers back into synth-heavy riffing that wouldn’t sound out of place on Stranger Things. The strained screams keep some level of intensity, as does the chunky riffage built around slow, Opeth-like background leads. We’re treated to some of those monolithic crescendos and wall-of-riffs that dominated earlier work, providing a nice counterpoint to the otherwise measured and safe pace of the album thus far. A depiction of social media as the new opiate of the masses is cleverly woven into the lyrics, which provide quite overt but clever social commentaries throughout.

Life Will Be Violent doesn’t really live up to the promise in the title, pulling back to a very thin, semi-industrial tone that gives the impression of a smaller latter-day Samael or Mortiis. Things accelerate quickly however, ascending in speed and grandiosity as the riff swells louder, riding abreast pummeling drums. Whilst the chorus flatlines things a little, the drum-and-bass bridge gives a nice floaty feeling of post-apocalyptic desert sands. When the riffs build again there’s a sense of real urgency, a liveliness just begging to be unleashed. After another run of that slightly-anorexic chorus, the home stretch towards the song’s final crescendo finally delivers on such a promise, rolling a wave of thick, intensifying drum-work atop crushing power chords.

The dirge-like warbling distorted leads and synths of Slow Motion Apocalypse alongside the semi-spoken vocals quickly sweep and curl up into an open but tight riff. Again, things have the intuitive sense of being held back, frustratingly so. At least this time around there’s playful and jagged dynamics with more interlocking of sharp riffs, electronica and tribal drum patterns. Following a shuffling drum solo, punctured by weird electronics, we finally cop another powerful barrage of chords and atmospherics, and it feels a thousand feet tall. It’s moments like this you can feel the band teetering just back from the precipice right when you want them to just relax and fully unleash.

Dim opens with another careful, Blade Runner-esque feeling, everything feeling held back once more. An interesting and hypnotic bass riff not unlike Tool adds a bit of spice to mix, some very obvious references to a certain political figurehead spat sarcastically before those big, open chugs roll in with the tide once more. This pattern repeats without too much fanfare before we get another taste of dynamic drum, bass, electronica and guitar interplay, a slickly cool moment that’d befit any modern sci-fi movie. Laser Fire Forget continues this spooky but warm and almost vaporwave aesthetic, mingling atmospherics with sparse riffs and rumbling bass. This distortion continues to build, intermittently punched along by those juicy power chords. Suddenly, following a synth-washed quieter passage, a lung bursting scream breaks into a gargantuan wall of thick riffs that shake you by the shoulders, quickly fading back out.

 

 

Album closer Rosebud provides some semi-clean arpeggios to start with, sounding just a bit off like a less jazzy cousin of Fredrik Thordendal’s quieter moments in Meshuggah. Choosing to burst straight into intensity, the tribal drumming and archetypal crushing riff-walls come pounding straight in, keeping the pace solid without resorting to electronic segues. The vocals don’t really rise to the occasion, however, keeping mostly to the safe alt-rock/metal end of the register. What happens next is truly cool, however – closing out the album is a psychedelic ball of almost imperceptible metal riffage and heavy electronica, both of which ebb in and out of one another, creating a sonic texture that provides an interesting and satisfying closure.

Overall, ‘Anthroscene’ unfortunately packs in a bevy of fantastic ideas and soundscapes into something with high potential that seems to be withholding from the listener. If unleashed into full fury, this album could have stood a hundred feet taller. Still not a bad listen, just not their most powerful.

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