Known for being staunchly independent, San Francisco-based quartet Cormorant have just self-released Diaspora, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2014 album Earth Diver. The group consists of bassist/vocalist Marcus Luscombe, guitarists Nick Cohon and Matt Solis, and drummer Brennan Kunkel, and their music is a hybrid of black and death metal, but also so much more. Elements of folk, prog and psychedelia constantly emerge in their complex and unpredictable compositions. The music’s innate expansiveness is reinforced by contributions from cellist Jackie Perez Gratz, best known for her her work with Grayceon, Giant Squid and Amber Asylum.
For those tracking the progress of the band over the last few years, the growth has been natural but nonetheless impressive. A sonic narrative unfolding over the course of several songs on Earth Diver has been folded over into just four long compositions on Diaspora. This gives the music an unhurried feel; Cormorant take their time to achieve what they must, no longer how long it takes.
Album opener “Preserved in Ash” lays out much of the ground they intend to tread through the course of the album. One minute, they charge forward with a blast beat-driven attack, only to switch gears and dive headlong into more expansive and dynamic territory. There is a successful alchemy at play here, a chemical marriage of Emperor, Opeth and Neurosis that few bands have attempted, and even fewer have been able to pull off.
Following the ten-plus minute opener, “Sentinel” kicks off with a twisted sense of doom metal. Serpentine twin-guitar harmonies wrap around one another, but the intervals between the notes subvert the traditional metal feel. Once the blast beats return, they are complemented by ethereal clean vocals floating gently above the chaos. Over 15 minutes in length, “Sentinel” manages to touch on the progressive sludge of a band like Northless, ripping black metal, and moments of menacing but quiet psychedelia, accompanied by Gratz’s evocative string work. Even the closing minutes of this epic seem to contain so much musical information that it is hard to believe the album is only just coming up on its halfway point.
At a relatively brief eight minutes, “The Devourer” is a summation of all that has come before it. Its tasteful blasts and elegant riff mazes lay the groundwork for the final epic: “Migration,” the album’s 26-minute closer.
“Migration” spends its opening minutes moving forward at an almost funeral doom pace, invoking the graceful brutality of Mournful Congregation, before returning to Cormorant’s more familiar territory. At this point, the cascading waterfalls of riffs create an almost hypnotic effect. While it is true that the sheer amount of music on Diaspora probably precludes it from being memorable in any conventional sense (this isn’t a hooky record, though the clean vocal harmonies may remind the listener of Baroness or Mastodon), it is nevertheless so well composed, and each riff is of such high quality, that it feels familiar. “Migration” is also perhaps the most technical song on the album. There are sections of mind-bending instrumental interplay here, but it never devolves into pointless showmanship. After a long and calm instrumental section, the band spends the track’s—and the album’s—last five minutes bringing the whole thing to a crescendo. Somehow, Cormorant seems to invoke every mood and tempo shift from Diaspora and meld them together into one monolithic closing statement. This is a sonic journey encapsulated into a single composition, covering more ground than many groups can traverse in entire albums.
While many metalheads are arguing about who deserves the spotlight in the “Year of Death Metal,” Cormorant have quietly self-released one of the most fascinating full-lengths of the year. Diaspora is impossible to classify and cannot not be pigeonholed into one sub-genre of extreme metal or another. Instead, it is the product of a group of musicians who’ve learned from many masters spread across multiple schools of metallic thought, synthesizing all those influences into something new. In short, this is the album everyone should be talking about.