Do record labels still matter anymore? With the advent of the Internet and websites like Bandcamp, it has never been easier for musicians and artists to release music directly to the audience. Streaming has far surpassed physical album sales, with many bands only putting out limited runs of vinyl or CDs, if at all. As a practical matter, many record labels function merely as microlenders that provide (limited) funding to bands for recording and promotion. What relevance does a record label have for a typical fan on the street?
The Artisan Era demonstrates why labels are important to artists and fans alike. For the unfamiliar, The Artisan Era is a Nashville-based record label established in 2014 that has made a name for itself in the world of extreme metal, with an emphasis on progressive and technical death metal. This label’s releases are gorgeous and like catnip for collectors, as the album artwork is consistently stunning and the vinyl variants are pornolicious. My favorite band on the label’s roster is Inferi, and I am literally surrounded by tapestries displaying Inferi’s album artwork as I type this. The label isn’t just putting out eye candy, however, as its albums usually come out with superb production.
Labels like The Artisan Era are important reference points for fans, as they can strongly signal the type of quality and experience that a fan can expect upon purchase or listening. If you had come to me today and said, “hey, listen to this album by this random California band that hasn’t put anything out except an EP in 2011,” I’d have given you a hard pass. But when the invitation is to listen to an upcoming release from The Artisan Era, I clear my schedule and neglect my wife and two known children to seize the moment.
Symbolik is a California-based technical death metal band that was established in 2008. Emergence is the band’s debut album, and is the follow up to its 2011 EP, Pathogenesis. The Artisan Era is releasing this album digitally, of course, but also in a number of beautiful physical formats. The three limited edition vinyl variants are called, “Consumed,” “Emergence,” and “Oblivion,” each with a different recipe of merge and splatter. The cover art is amazing, featuring a small, robed man standing before a mountain that has been split open and from which a glowing blue ooze springs forth. Very cool.
Thankfully, the sound and production on Emergence match the beauty of its packaging. Upon my initial listen, it was evident that great care and attention to detail had been taken on this album. This is essential for a good technical death metal record. Every instrument is clear in the mix, complemented by dual vocal lines that never have to compete to be heard. Although the album is 40 minutes long, fatigue never sets in because this record has good dynamics.
Emergence features 10 tracks, most of which clock in at four minutes or less. This is key as, like any good tech death song, each track here has a lot going on. Melodic riffs abound, and you get your recommended daily allowance of guitar scales for sure. What impressed and surprised me the most about this record was the relatively subdued and harmonious guitar solos. I’d expected full on masturbatory scales at tremolo speed, but instead I was treated to solos that would be at home on a bluesy hard rock or heavy metal album. What an interesting balance Symbolik have created.
I listened to this album before reading the liner notes, so I thought there were two vocalists. Nope. Chris Blackburn does double duty by providing two distinct vocal styles throughout (growl and shriek). Both styles are complementary and fit well for this kind of music. Symbolik is rounded out by Allen Burton (ex-Alterbeast) and Taylor Whitney on guitars, Daniel Juarez on bass, and Brandon Clevenstine on drums. They all pull their weight on this one.
The inherent weakness in tech death is the tendency for all the songs on the album to kind of blur together, as each song seems to be competing for the title of greatest virtuosity. In that context, it can be tough for any individual track to stand out or be memorable. You’d have to give Emergence many, many listens to really be able to identify and particularize each track. Luckily, this album is good enough to reward listeners with something new to discover on repeated listens.
If you are at all interested in technical death metal, I definitely recommend that you give Emergence a listen. Do it quickly to determine if you like it, as that limited edition vinyl is likely to fly off The Artisan Era’s shelves pretty fast.
Favorite Songs “A Tyranny in Decay,” “Dirge of All Creation,” and “Souls of Deception”
Release Date: 4/10/2020
Label: The Artisan Era
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