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Double Play: Job For a Cowboy & Borknagar

Two reviews for the price of none!

 

Job For A Cowboy

Demonocracy

Metal Blade Records

You have to respect how ugly Job For A Cowboy is. Not just metal ugly, but all around musically ugly. This band, that also win points for their name, produce ugly music for an ugly world. If art is a reflection of humanity, then Job For A Cowboy are showing us a part of ourselves we don’t want to see. The band’s latest opus of ugly is Demonocracy and once again they come out of the gate firing on all pistons.

Demonocracy is defined as either a government of demons existing in hell or a mortal government that is no better, e.g. evil politicians. Which one is Job For A Cowboy taking aim at here? Well, given our current political system it’d be hard to tell. Even with song titles like “Black Discharge” and “The Manipulation Stream”, there’s a lot on this album that’s left to your imagination. A thought provoking metal record? How novel. Job For A Cowboy have always leaned more politically than typical blood and gore, but they’ve remained smart enough to leave their music open for interpretation.

Since the release of 1999’s Ruination, Job For A Cowboy has seen a bit of band drama. Bassist Brent Riggs and guitarist Bobby Thompson split from the band, replaced by Nick Schendzielos of  Cephalic Carnage and Tony Sannicandro respectively.  The loss has done nothing to sideline Job For A Cowboy as Demonocracy is a tighter, more mature record that raises their songwriting to a new level of excellence. Where Ruination was sporadically boring and often self-indulgent, Demonocracy has a “get in and get out” feel to it. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious guitar shredding sections or that the band has turned into a two-minute punk band. They’ve just refined what they do, allowing them to make their point quicker.

I won’t lie to you, if you don’t like death metal with dashes of grindcore, you won’t like Job For A Cowboy. Variation isn’t a big theme with this kind of music, but it never has been. Demonocracy is filled with hyper kinetic riffage,  blazing fast drums, ripping solos and a few half time mosh parts. None of the songs stray too far from that formula and to the uneducated ear it could come off as boring. To those of us who love heavy music, we’re listening to what’s within the parameters of the genre. Are the riffs memorable? Are there dynamics? Is the band exercising some real creativity within what they do. Not every band is going to break the rules or push the envelope, that doesn’t mean they can’t tear shit up.

Where Job For A Cowboy shine is structure. Even with the most “extreme”, you can usually spot their structure. With this band the structure is to have no structure. Solos come in unexpectedly, the music stops abruptly leaving just drums and vocals, the speed bleeds into slower time signatures. In the hands of a lesser band this kind of constantly moving structure would come across as sloppy. WithDemonocracy, Job For A Cowboy maintain control of the frenzied chaos and that’s what makes it interesting.

The only part of Demonocracy where I tune out are the vocals. It used to be that a heavy band could yell or sing coherently and still get their point across. These days’ heavy bands have to rely on the dog bark/screech style and to my ears’ it’s enough already. This has nothing to do with Job For A Cowboy, this is a genre-wide epidemic that I feel has run its course. Slayer managed to rip through Angel Of Death and Reign In Blood without falling victim to this vocal style, I think the new kids could get past it. The real shame is that vocalist Jonny Davy has some great things to say that get lost in a vocal style largely dictated by genre politics. Regardless of the vocal issues, Demonocracy is a major step forward for a band that thrives on being ugly and in your face.

 


 

Borknagar

Urd

Century Media Records

 

While still brothers of heavy music, Borknagar take a very different route than Job For A Cowboy.  Instead of beating you into the ground with speed and rapid-fire riffs, Norway’s Borknagar are more focused on dynamics and symphonic elements. This isn’t a band that simply write songs. Instead, Borknagar craft musical movements containing black metal elements as well as keyboards and strings. The swell and release of Borknagar’s sound takes a major step forward with their new album Urd. Returning to a focus on nature and man, Borknagar have made what amounts to an emotional record. Something very rare for Black Metal.

My first joy with Urd is how it’s largely made up of clean vocals from returning member ICS Vortex. If you were sad Vortex left Dimmu Borgir or you found yourself captivated by his solo album Storm Seeker, get ready to do backflips over his work onUrd. The unpredictable and the avant-garde come together under the dark cloud of black metal with Urd and when Vortex’s vocals spill over that it is fucking epic.

Opening with “The Beauty Of Dead Cities”, Borknagar make their statement clear. This is about nature reclaiming urban decay and the band creates a musical bed that supports the theme. When Vortex’s vocals erupt for the first time it’s really beautiful, a word not often bandied about in black metal. The music for “The Beauty Of Dead Cities” is much more relaxed than you’d think for an album opener, but that’s what makes Borknagar different. They are inviting you into their world not daring you to try and enter. To me “The Beauty Of Dead Cities” is what Opeth were trying to do on their new album but fell just short.

“The Earthling” is more straightforward Borknagar, building off their spotless reputation for innovative black metal. It’s not incredibly fast but it does move and the vocals are more akin to the traditions of the genre. “Epochalypse” is another larger-than-life monster with a battle between clean and growl vocals elevating the dramatic tension. Structurally “Epochalypse” is really curious. This is a song of swells and crashes. When the more straightforward black metal moves into the more symphonic section it swells into them instead of just stopping. The swell rages then crashes back into the black metal. The push and pull of the two is really the crux of “Epochalypse”.

“Frostrite” feels like something ICS Vortex brought with him from his Storm Seeker. The tune has a straightforward thrash feel mixed with elements of seventies rock. “Mount Regency” takes the black metal feel in a new direction by adding some prog-rock elements as well as a dash of the psychedelic. “The Winter Eclipse” finale is an arena rock masterpiece. Huge guitars, seventies era keyboards and chorus, black metal drums and thrash riffs all blend into one sound.  It’s as if Borknagar took all they’d done on Urd and combined it into this last jam. The only song I could live without is “In A Deeper World”. While not a bad song, it steps a little too far into the black rose garden of gothic metal for my taste.

Borknagar have always taken black metal in new directions. They never lose the core of the music they serve but they have no fear of innovation. The band refers to Urd as an album that brings them back to earth after the expansive themes in Universal. The subject matter here is of mankind and his place within nature. Starting with black metal, Borknagar have managed to create a natural and elemental record. It moves like nature and is often just as unpredictable. If I had one issue with the album it would be aspects of the production. For the themes of earth I think Borknagar went too clean, I would have liked at least parts of Urd to have an earthier and dirtier sound. That quibble out of the way, Borknagar have brought forth another mammoth testament to why they are one of the most interesting bands in extreme music today.