Outer Edge does not sound like a different animal, at least on a surface level, than anything on Cosmic Shift—the opener still features an acoustic guitar, there is still the tug-and-pull effect that made the Ollocs’ best work emotionally resonate even in its alone-ness. Where the former album emphasized a heavy interaction with strings (“Three-Sixty”), Outer Edge relies more on modulations, circular rhythms, and, of course, the interplay between flute and acoustic guitar, which works especially well on “Microcosm”. Ollocs are at their most provocative, however, when their atmospherics are playing against a piano—“Reflection” breaks from the sparseness that dominates the majority of Outer Edge, but only long enough to return to the circular rhythms of “The Paradox”, which only sounds comforting until you realize the band’s long-overdue addition of vocals. “ “At The Edge (Part 1)” is the loudest by far, and it is the shrill, unresolved electric guitar work at the end that makes Outer Edge a provocative listen.
If Life Thread was a dense, polyphonic masterpiece for Ollocs, then Cosmic Shift is the bare bones aftermath. The slow, isolated guitar that opens “Threads of Life” revisits the territory of “A Single Step”, but with a greater emphasis on theme and tone, rather than complex melodic interplay. The results, more often than not, reveal an album that contains within it a human ache. “Three-Sixty” perhaps more effectively resonates, borrowing equally from Classical and, perhaps, Alternative Rock in its interaction with strings. “Steps to Horizon” and “Cinco” come the closest to revisiting the wall-of-sound aesthetic of Life Thread; what separates the former is a choice to emphasize minimalist chord progressions over solos, the hint of a drum over big, aggressive noise. No doubt Life Thread would have taken the slow rumblings in “Steps” as a signal to unravel. Not once, however, does the album teeter on eruption, nor does it dwell in the unresolved. It just creates perfect art without spectacle.
From the album art alone, progressive rock band Ollocs present an image that is simultaneously inviting and isolating, that throbs and pulses into the human subconscious. It is this subtlety that defines both their sound and their use of the album as a concept. “A Single Step” opens with a single acoustic guitar, but the threat of the background bass quickly shapes the sound into something with teeth and fists and big, electric guitars. Never content to be dwell either in the intimate or the loud and aggressive space for long, Ollocs use their deep, throbbing bass as a means to transition into complex polyphony that dominates the album. What they accomplish with this technique, both musically and philosophically, is no small feat—the interplay of strings and percussion in “Horizon”, as well as the use of military-style drums jars and comforts the listener, keeping an edge even as one grows at home in the sonic atmosphere. Comfort and fear and most successfully juxtaposed in “Countdown”, where the use of minor keys allows the musical narrative to become so vivid it seems tangible at times. This album is indeed, layered and complex, the kind of work that requires several careful, discerning listens to appreciate all of its nuances. Life Thread not only demands that time. It deserves it.
From the slow creep of “Eternal Nightmare”, it is easy to dismiss Exercitum as the kind of band that follows in the shadows of metal giants like Slayer. Listeners will find the same emphasis on grotesque horror, the same subliminal play, the same cerebral assault that either sounds jarring or inviting. To think of this debut album as a 21st century Seasons in the Abyss, however, is to ignore the incredible versatility of the musicians who made it—and after playing at Gramercy Theatre, these guys know a thing or two about how to change up a set. Tracks like “Metal and Lace” deliver equally on machismo and loud, pulsing guitars, while “War Cry” kicks the proverbial doors of the hard rock and metal scene off their hinges. War, as a theme, reverberates throughout the album, both in political and confessional ways. “Take Me Home” most prominently brings the latter to the surface, with its echoes of loss (“a place I can no longer find”) and brutal honesty (“I can’t erase my past”).“Save Me From Myself”, perhaps, is the biggest triumph here, synthesizing the loud, aggressive guitars in the beginning with more meditative side of “Take Me Home”. If it is any indicator of where Exercitum is going, then they are going to not only achieve a cult following in the metal scene—they will own the whole damn thing.
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