While listening to Diaspora, the fourth full-length from California-based progressive black metallers Cormorant, I can’t help but think of that famous story about the American reporter who sent a cable to Mark Twain in London after hearing a rumor that the noted humorist and author had suddenly fallen gravely ill and died. And Twain’s oft-misquoted reply? “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Remember back in 2012, when vocalist/lyricist/fretless bassist Arthur von Nagel left Cormorant after Dwellings came out to work full-time for Telltale Games and people lost their shit about it? I even recall one particular site running an overly dramatic (or shit-stirring – it’s hard to tell sometimes) story about it with the headline “Cormorant Leaves Cormorant,” calling his departure akin to Trent Reznor leaving Nine Inch Nails or Dave Grohl exiting Foo Fighters. Of course, such reactions were fucking ridiculous, as the band proved on their first album with new bassist/vocalist Marcus Luscombe, Earth Diver. A bit blacker than some of their previous work, that album had a similar feel as post-Beyond the Lights Enslaved, but with a lot more hard rock-style guitar solos.
After spending some time with Diaspora, though, I feel like Earth Diver was actually more of a transitional record – the sound of a band trying to find their footing without their de facto leader (von Nagel handled almost all of the press for the band). Fortunately, the members of Cormorant are all stellar musicians, which is probably why Earth Diver still worked so well and was so damned enjoyable. Diaspora, on the other hand, sounds more like the album I’ve been waiting for Cormorant to make for a very long time.
On the whole, Diaspora feels like a much mellower record, reminding me more of bands like Anciients and Agalloch than Opeth or Enslaved. The prog elements feel different as well, moving away from the more common Pink Floyd-isms of a lot of progressive black metal into something that sounds closer to Kansas (especially the way the band layers the clean vocals). The album feels warm instead of spacey. In fact, the only thing that really doesn’t seem different are the guitar solos, which sound just as lyrical and expressive as ever.
Given the epic scope of Diaspora—its four tracks run just over an hour—it’s a bit difficult to parse the album for highlights. Every song deftly weaves together numerous different musical and stylistic threads to form breathtaking tapestries of sound. So ideally, the album really needs to be listened to in one sitting as a continuous piece. Since I’m a sucker for strings, though, I am a bit partial to “Sentinel,” which features a guest appearance from the always-amazing Jackie Perez Gratz (Giant Squid, Graceyon) on cello. And if you don’t have a full 60 minutes to devote to the record, then I’d suggest starting at the end and listening to the title track, the stunning, 26+ minute ”Migration.” The track is a perfect microcosm of facet of the band’s sound, moving through multiple riffs, motifs, and moods without ever losing cohesion or feeling overstuffed. This might sound like hyperbole, but I’d rank it right up there with Opeth’s “Black Rose Immortal” as one of the best prog-metal epics ever written.
All told, Diaspora might well be the high water mark in Cormorant’s stellar discography, and is going to be hard to top in terms of my favorite albums of 2017. If for some reason you were one of those “no von Nagel, no Cormorant” types who didn’t even give Earth Diver a chance, don’t make the same mistake again this time.
Keeping it independent as always, Diaspora will be available on August 11 in a variety of formats via Cormorant’s Bandcamp page.