"A stressful ride through unpleasant subgenres": A review of Acrassicauda's "Gilgamesh"
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have been waiting several years for the first full length release of this unique Iraqi quintet. Acrassiacuda is the name of a dangerous black scorpion in Africa and the Middle East.
The band formed back in 2001, played several local concerts and recorded two demos under the regime of Saddam Hussein. After the Iraqi regime change, the band received serious death threats from Islamic militants who thought that the band was worshipping the devil. Due to these threats and ongoing violence in Baghdad after Iraq War, the band members fled to Syria around 2006 and later on to Turkey around 2007. The band's difficult situation was covered by several media and the critically acclaimed documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" made them famous in the whole world in 2007.
They were finally granted refugee status in the United States of America and arrived on the East Coast in early 2009. The band met members of several North American bands such as Cannibal Corpse, Metallica, Ministry, Testament and Voivod who supported them. Acrassicauda's first EP was professionally recorded and released in early 2010. After several line-up changes and short tours, the different band members took their time to settle down and take care of their families.
In the middle of last year, the band started a Kickstarter campaign to finance the production, promotion, redording and shipping of their first independant full length record. Many fans supported the project and the band accumulated more than thirty-seven thousand US dollars. After many months of hard work, Acrassicauda officially released "Gilgamesh" on April 4th, 2015. No matter what you think about their music, this band deserves a lot of respect for everything they have been through in their lives and for what they have achieved as artists so far.
Here are my thoughts about this historical record:
Acrassicauda is the famous band from war-ridden Iraq that was featured in the famous documentary “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” almost eight years ago. The band had to relocate numerous times from Iraq to Syria and Turkey before they finally arrived in the United States of America about six years ago. One year later, the band’s first professionally recorded EP was released which featured four highly addicting, nearly progressively diversified and technically appealing tracks. After many difficult years, the band had finally realized its most ambitious dream and I’m still regularly listening to this record. Over the past five years, the band moved out of media focus and things got rather quiet apart of a couple of concerts and line-up changes. Last year, Acrassicauda started a Kickstarter campaign to gather a surprisingly elevated amount of money to record, produce, promote and ship their first studio album which has finally been released last month.
Just like their first professional release five years earlier, Acrassicauda’s first full length record fortunately still includes diversified song writing with meditative melodic middle parts, occasional Middle Eastern folk elements and a technically appealing mixture of groove and thrash metal. Those who are expecting a nostalgic folk metal release because of the historic concept chosen by the band should know better. Acrassicauda has progressed towards a more modern sound with metalcore and especially nu metal influences that could come from bands such as Killswitch Engage, Lamb Of God and Stone Sour. Some vocal melodies even remind me of bands such as Drowning Pool, Godsmack and Soulfly. If there weren’t a few efficiently employed folk samples, some diversified tribal drum patterns and a couple of melodic backing vocals in the key of traditional Middle Eastern chants, one could think that this is the record of an American veteran nu metal group inspired by groove metal bands such as Pantera.
I’m definitely not a traditional metal purist and I like to see a band progress but I’m missing the energizing balance between traditional and modern elements from “Only the Dead See the End of War” five years earlier. Apart of the few positive elements mentioned above, quite a few things are really bothering me here.
First of all, the vocals are less diversified and organic than before as most parts are either annoyingly screamed or whispered over nerve wrecking modern sound effects. It’s really tough to make it through the dystopian vocal effects of “The Cost of Everything & the Value of Nothing” without getting massive headaches and being reminded of the horrible era fifteen years ago when aggressive short-haired young white adults where jumping across a stage and yelling about their emotional confusion over harsh riffs and modern beats while the medias were trying to sell this kind of music as metal. The song I have just mentioned sounds in fact worse than what Limp Bizkit and their acolytes released nearly twenty years ago.
This leads me to mention the rather weak production that doesn’t sound harmonious, organic and simple at all but which is rather overloaded with useless sound effects. This is not only the case in the more aggressive tracks where exaggerated multiple vocal effects, uselessly distorted guitar sounds and a canny drum sound that buries the bass guitar fusion to a irritating sound. Even a calmer track such as the ballad “Requiem for a Reverie” that finally comes around with smooth vocals, soft tribal percussions and a few harmonious acoustic guitar melodies is destroyed by the echoing sound effects of the repetitive drum play.
Another problem is the weak song structures on this release. I don’t mind experimental writing and don’t need a catchy chorus in every song but Acrassicauda definitely fails to come around with any moving sing-along part, gripping riff passage or epic closure that lives up to this conceptual record. The tracks are all quite short and end rather suddenly without leaving any deeper impression. Let’s take a track like “Elements” as an example. The song starts quickly without any introduction and features harsh up-tempo riffs and angry vocals that aren’t a far call from Testament. The track is suddenly interrupted by a breakdown featuring Middle Eastern chants. The next step is a mid-tempo chorus that has some potential but which is too hectic and rushed to unfold. The middle passage features a nervous guitar solo that only adds to the existing cacophony. The track ends with extended Middle Eastern chants over slow yet noisily chugging riffs before the track quickly fades out without any proper conclusion. In less than three confusing minutes, the band used four or five promising ideas in an extremely inefficient way since the different elements aren’t fleshed out and only scratch the surface of their potential. This is one of the record’s biggest issues. Only a few short transitional interludes, numerous smart introductions based on traditional Middle Eastern folk music and some short but well performed guitar solos are holding this mess of an album somewhat together and giving us some highlights where the band’s different ideas take their time to unfold.
The only really good track is the album closer “Rebirth” which takes its time to unfold its different song writing ideas in four and a half minutes. The hypnotizing melodic vocals are a welcome change of style, the riffs sound a little bit more atmospheric and epic in the chorus and the smooth finale with longing guitar sounds, melancholic piano sounds and sound samples of a crying baby ends the record on a coherent note.
This stressful ride is over after forty intense yet unsatisfying minutes. After the band’s great first professional output, I would have expected something more profound, progressive and thought-out than nine rather shallow tracks plus three instrumental tunes on a brazenly short release. I’m glad this band got so much support from their fans to bring this record out and achieve its goals after everything the members have been through but these reasons are no excuses for this weak final product which is definitely below average and doesn’t live up to its hype. In the end, I can only recommend this record to modern metal fans that like to listen to commercial metalcore that was a big hype ten years earlier, nu metal that got its breakthrough more than fifteen years ago and traditional groove metal that became more and more present twenty years in the past.
Final rating: 40%
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Homepage: http://acrassicauda.com/« Just for fun: a collage of some of my favourite records"Sticking to the same successful formula": A review of Volbeat's "Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies" »
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