The human capacity to create stories—of an afterlife, of the borders of state and country, of the existence of forces inexplicable—constantly shapes the cultural and physical aspects of our world. On their 4th album, Diaspora, SF Bay Area band Cormorant explores the origins and consequences of these narratives across an hour of diverse and dynamic extreme metal.
In the opening track “Preserved in Ash,” listeners are immediately dropped into the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Blastbeats and barbs of guitar dissonance ring out as bassist/vocalist Marcus Luscombe, narrating as a doomed villager, attributes the disaster to a vengeful god: “Explosion, a call from our father’s sphere…Reprisal for sins that we prayed would disappear.” One of Cormorant’s strengths is their knack for telling stories through both lyrics and musical textures, often simultaneously. The chaotic rhythms and layers of riffs convey the panic, the disorientation of being caught in the path of unthinkable disaster, while the lyrics solidify the narrative.
This multifaceted storytelling is woven throughout the album’s 4 long-form tracks. Midway through “Preserved…,” bright barre chords evoke the sun breaking through clouds as survivors of the eruption navigate “through the cracks in the ash.” In “Sentinel,” millenia pass as Ötzi lies forgotten in a glacial tomb, his solitude represented through an extended instrumental interlude (embellished with glockenspiel and cello courtesy of Giant Squid’s Jackie Perez Gratz).
Cormorant draw from a range of genres to complement the shifting moods in their songs. The strains of traditional, folk, and melodic death metal found on their debut album, Metazoa, are still present, but a latent ferocity has since risen to the surface. Beginning with the addition of Luscombe and the release of Earth Diver in 2014, the band has explored the more caustic side of their sound, with a prominent focus on death and black metal styles. “The Devourer” displays this influence from the start with primitive death metal riffing and Brennan Kunkel’s (reliably) nuanced grooves behind the kit. Matt Solis’ bellows have taken on a more central role since they first appeared on Earth Diver, and along with Luscombe, his vocals have improved on this release. Their call-and-response verses keep monotony at bay and showcase performances both muscular and emotive.
The album closes with “Migration,” a track that combines old and new elements of Cormorant’s sound to recount the doctrine of manifest destiny. Over the course of its 26-minute runtime, the song shifts through various viewpoints and genres. Funeral doom riffs crawl by, their weight evocative of the great distances traveled, the lives lost, the futures crushed under wagon wheels. When the perspective changes to that of the American pioneers, the music follows suit: dual guitar melodies and double kick drums convey their optimism and movement across the plains. Pompous rock riffs display the arrogance of these settlers, their voices declaring “with God as my witness, I claim this as mine.”
Thousands of years after scholars first inscribed their clay tablets, the purpose of storytelling remains largely unchanged: to transport, to teach, to remember. On Diaspora, together with Jeff Christensen’s surreal artwork and the clear, compact mix from Greg Wilkinson (at his Earhammer Studios in Oakland), Cormorant succeed in their goal—enveloping their audience in myths both ancient and contemporary.