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Czar - "Vertical Mass Grave" (CD)

Czar - "Vertical Mass Grave" CD cover image

"Vertical Mass Grave" track listing:

1. Family Crest
2. Scarless
3. Cun
4. Diapers
5. Brunt
6. Tubman Gutletter
7. Writhe
8. Blodeuwedd
9. Spooling Down
10. Redeemer

Reviewed by on December 20, 2011

"'Vertical Mass Grave' is sort of like an episode of The X-Files in that it's dark and unusual, but captivating and well-paced. It also might make you think about aliens."

After taking a running start with a self-titled EP in 2009, Czar has set off to trample lesser metal acts and make a mad dash for recognition with debut album, "Vertical Mass Grave." If the name of the album alone doesn't inspire a sort of terror and sick wonder, the music will provide it in spades. "Vertical Mass Grave" is sort of like an episode of The X-Files in that it's dark and unusual, but captivating and well-paced. It also might make you think about aliens.

Taking cues from trailblazers of unusual chord voicings like Fear Factory and Daylight Dies, Czar blends angular riffing and melodic contrast for one of the most incomparable releases of the year. There really isn't any one band the group could be compared to accurately, which speaks loudly for Czar’s individuality. Nothing seems forced or sticks out like a sore thumb, and the delivery is confident and decisive.

"Family Crest" starts in with groaning and grumbling noise and breaks out into a beast of a first track. The vocals have lost the eerie haziness they had on the self-titled EP and are instead clear and growl-oriented, but not in a death metal or hardcore style. The low-tuned guitars and bass shape the main soundscapes, creating constellations that unfurl in the space provided by the considerably technical and well-produced drums. Fans of the Sean Reinert style of drumming will find themselves with a smile on their faces.

"Scarless" and "Cun" are slug-fests that pull some surprises and develop themes that will have listeners doing double-takes. "Diapers" is the most lyrically concise and poignant song on the album with its blunt humiliation, stating simply, "Why soil? You're only as good as the last fix we gave you, but then we all laugh as you retreat to your crib." Lyrically, the album covers themes of strength and weakness, although the moments of pure instrumentation outnumber the moments with vocals on the album, making it shoegaze-friendly.

"Brunt" opens with an excellent exchange of dual guitar parts and turns into a down-tempo jam, akin to the somewhat doomy vibe of "Spooling Down." "Tubman Gutletter" has one of the album's biggest build-ups, rife with percussion, before opening up to triumphant riff-jockeying. "Writhe" pounds like a Strapping Young Lad/Meshuggah/Fear Factory combination. "Blodeuwedd" and "Redeemer" both have a more exploratory feel to their chord progressions.

With peaks, crests, and great pacing, this wormhole of an album will transport the listener to new places. It's everything you could want from a debut album - already defined, decisive, and different. If they hadn't lost the synths that were present on the EP before this, it might have been a bit better, but it's energetic enough as is and should appeal to those who appreciate non-standard riffs and modern Mastodon-like production.

Highs: "Brunt," "Cun," and "Diapers."

Lows: The synths that were influential on the promising EP before this are gone.

Bottom line: A blend of angular riffing and melodic contrast.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)