What do you get when you cross raw, menacing and vicious BM with the free thinking, chaotic and technical genre of Prog Metal? The answer is 55 minutes of genuine creativity and intensity courtesy of Pennsylvanian band, IATT in their latest release, the optimistically titled “Magnum Opus.” It would be easy to think of a Prog/Black Metal hybrid as being a mixture that would require some seriously dedicated listening but throughout the album, the key notes and core features always remain accessible and prominent enough to be digestible within a casual listen, but does this a great album make?
Right from the get-go we’re treated to immaculately produced strings that automatically guide your ears into the first track “Servitude, Subjugate” before a tremolo picked guitar seers in with its stumbling and edgy riff that collapses into a jilted and amelodic proggy style accentuated with thick percussion and eventually guttural vocals that seem to alternate between chest and head voice from line to line. There’s a genuine sense of evolution within this track, with a brief choral section, periods of frenetic thrash and chaos sandwiched to natural feeling progressive and calm segments. Black Metal tends to revel in being technically simple and compositionally restrained, so to see it re-contextualized into this format so convincingly is rare.
Following a such a strong introduction we have “Ouroboros” which bewilderingly starts with one of the most comical vocal openings I think I have ever heard to a song, I have no other way of describing it but to exist it sounds like someone vomiting. I understand the appeal to go as harsh as you can with the vocals, and it’s not like they’re technically bad here but they’re just far far too much and are resultantly a little bit cringe inducing. There’s also a somewhat circus like sax section in one of the post-choruses, I’m not entirely sure if I like it or not really, I love Mr.Bungle and this section certainly does harken back to some of that projects work, but at the same time it feels really odd contextually. The track certainly isn’t boring, but I think it perhaps steps too far outside of the musical bounds that I myself am personally comfortable within. If however, you are a fan of super weird, slightly self-indulgent prog oddities then I can see this song soon becoming a personal favorite of yours.
It has to be said that that there are worse criticisms of an album to give than that it is “too odd” or “weird” as whilst being a personal criticism, it does speak to a level of identity that the music possesses, namely a steadfast commitment to originality and innovation that pervades all of this album. The worst thing someone’s music can ever be is boring and IATT is certainly not that. There are genuine creative risks present here and that ought to always be encouraged.
Starting with a nicely resonant piano section with a brief bass groove, “Prima Materia” boasts a far stronger and much more screwed on sound than the previous tracks, with a great chunk of energy, a helping of compositional virtuosity and an addictive sci-fi sounding synth that cuts in from time to time in the more chorus like sections of the songs, only to be replaced by the oh-so-familiar choral backing vocals that existed in “Servitude, Subjugate.” The guitar tone is razor sharp, the percussion rapid fire and perfectly mixed and the vocals are in the much less cringe inducing higher register of our vocalist, Jay Briscoe. This is all complimented by a really well thought out and put together melodic section, replete with strings and a much more serious sounding saxophone solo, courtesy of Burial In The Sky’s Zach Strouse. This sort of song is where IATT really shine, where they approach the song with all of their innovation and energy but are able to channel it into something more focused and tied together, it feels like less of a pop-up stand for their ideas and more of a well thought out exhibition, where no expense is spared on detail or effort.
The following track “Elixir of Immortality” follows much of the same format and is all the better for it, this feels like the track on the album the band would most like people to listen to, with some addictive guitar chugging and absolutely brutal vocals creating a crushing ode to man’s inability to accept his mortality and his propensity to clutch at straws to hold onto his self-inflicted denial of it. The strings that are a cornerstone of “Magnum Opus’” sound are used sparingly here, but perhaps to their greatest effect in the whole album, adding a refreshing diversity to the songs perhaps more traditional style.
It’s at this point where the album takes a more sombre turn, “Exculpate, Exonerate” starts with a humble piano interluded overlaid onto a field recording of a rainstorm. The album didn’t lack for sonic variety before but perhaps was too emotionally one-note, “Exculpate, Exonerate” is a moving track though that focuses less on aggression and angst and moves from sadness to acceptance, with the vocal refrain “I decided to forgive myself” being employed liberally throughout atop a deep and vivid soundscape that remains true to IATT’s distinctive style but also changes in all the right ways to do justice to the different emotional angle of the song. Oftentimes even the best artists forget that thematic diversity is as important as sonic or compositional diversity and albums can end up becoming stale and progressively more passive throughout their runtime on account of this, IATT avoid this with the intelligent dispersal of this 6-minute requiem for a life in which we feel understood, cared for and at peace.
I feel very conflicted towards this album, I can see the beauty, the grand ideas, the instrumental ability, the passion and graft that has been poured into it, and yet so far, for all if it’s great moments it isn’t connecting often enough, I am getting the ideas and feeling the sentiments and yet there’s this nagging feeling of it just not quite feeling complete enough, like perhaps in some ways it is trying too hard and the sound feels too forced to endear the album to me, I want to like it more than I do, but it just sits on that awkward point of being good, but not great.
We’re back to a more conventional IATT sound with track 6, “Demiurgos (Architect of Disaster)” this track brings forth the progressive elements of the album more audibly than in previous tracks, with runaway guitar passages, odd signatures and a greater focus on a stilted and uneven feeling than before, however what remains is still very clearly in keeping with the rest of the album. It isn’t shocking or bold, but it is solidly assembled and a valid addition to the album.
Heading into the final leg of the album, we’re greeted by “Planes of Existence” I don’t gel with the first half of the song or so, too much like what the band had been doing in the earlier segments of the song, but I do really appreciate when the song abandons all restraint and goes hell for leather, descending into a chaotic and vicious BM assault on the ears, completed by a well implemented saxophone accompaniment that adds just that little bit more flavor to an auditory taste explosion.
It’s interesting to me that lots of variety exists within the album, and yet it never feels jarring, and yet simultaneously also does contribute to a wider sense of aforementioned incompleteness. Given the choice to have this variety and keep the incompleteness or lose the variety and gain a greater sense of completeness then of course it is preferable to keep the variety, but that doesn’t change the fact that by this point in the album it’s robbing what are individually good songs of their shine.
“Seven Wandering Stars” featuring Jake Superchi of Uada fame is a more melodic affair, with Jake’s guest vocals elevating the music and serving well here, you can do a lot with a well-executed guest performance, and this is a great example of one used for the best. There’s also a wonderful set of guitar solos throughout the track that do a nice job of giving it some nuance and helps guide the more oppressive elements of the composition into a pleasantly listenable package.
It is a shame then that the final track “Chrysopoeia” is so non-descript amongst the rest of the album, I suppose it is important for things to feel circular, and for a final track to take a bit of everything presented so far, but no one element feels distinctly present at any point, and it all just congeals into a rather bland affair, I would have swapped this tracks position with the track before it.
Ultimately, IATT’s “Magnum Opus” is a competent and reasonable affair, that will certainly find no shortage of love from those who love their Black Metal with flair, or their Progressive Metal with a razor sharp edge, it is an album I can wholeheartedly recommend to specific listeners, ones who crave something a bit odd and a bit quirky, ones who care less about cohesion and completion than they do sheer expression and witnessing a new and fresh approach, but for most, I suspect the album will be met with respect and mild enjoyment rather than setting off any fireworks in the minds of those who listen to it.
Released By: Black Lion Records
Release Date: May 27th 2022
Genre: Progressive Metal / Black Metal / Technical Death Metal
- Jay Briscoe / Vocals
- Alec Pezzano / Guitar, Orchestral
- Joe Cantamessa / Lead Guitar
Paul Cole / Percussion
“Magnum Opus” Track-list:
1. Servitude, Subjugate
3. Prima Materia
4. Elixir of Immortality
5. Exculpate, Exonerate
6. Demiurgos (Architect of Disaster)
7. Planes of Our Existence
8. Seven Wandering Stars
A worthy addition to the extreme progressive metal soundscape, likely to be of interest to most listeners but perhaps only loved by those who are hellbent on novelty and quirkiness over cohesion and completeness