Review Summary: death metal for smarty pants-es.
Don Anderson wants you to know how super smart he is. Allegedly his most “personal project”, Sculptured seems sadly fixated on hyper-pretentious and overly referential songwriting. While the The Spear of the Lily is Aureoled was a mostly solid outing, Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique pushed Apollo Ends into the upper-echelon of avant-unlistenability. With Embodiment, Don professed his yearning to further explore “matrix systems and serialism” as well his attempt to continue developing ways of using patterns and shapes to compose music. Though the majority of this floats happily over my head, it’s made abundantly clear that Don Anderson not only knows a lot about music, but is willing to compromise his own to prove it. Thankfully, Embodiment is not the mess it could’ve have been. In fact, I dare to say it’s the most listenable and personable Sculptured album yet. Whether it comes as a result of the 9 year gap between albums or musical maturation I cannot say, but I can certainly attest to one thing: Embodiment is as unique as it is challenging as it is listenable. Take from that what you will.
“Taking My Body Apart” wastes no time in abolishing the often dreary atmosphere established on Sculptured’s previous outings, an oddity considering its death-based subject matter. Propelled by both Dave Murray’s frantic drumming and a newfound sense of urgency, Embodiment establishes a high gear early on, tactfully roping in listeners with a sound that, while still as complex as ever, comes off a lot more natural and decipherable upon first listen. Allegedly based around a musical “triangle”, the 8:31 opener rarely takes its excessive backing to insufferable heights. “The Shape of Rage” places fervent drumming alongside Andy Winter’s contrasted keyboard work, which manages to sound both amazing and atrocious, often in the same musical phrase. Using a psych-out ending midway through, “The Shape of Rage” is also perhaps the most reminiscent of something off The Spear… or Apollo Ends, though the abrasive angularity now seems more controlled alongside Don’s distinctly dorky vocals. Each track follows this formula to a tee, though it’s evidently a formula contingent on perplexing the listener. One could argue that the album is formulaically un-formulaic, though that would in all likelihood make said hypothesizer more pretentious than the band.
In many ways, it can be a chore to distinguish between tracks, even to the point of it being hard to note when one begins and another ends. Yet, as futile as the separation of tracks seems to be, Embodiment is initially too overwhelming to digest in a full sitting. Amidst Murray’s consistently confusing drumming, Winter’s pianoing, organing, bleep-blooping and Anderson’s shape-shifting guitar work, it’s easy for one to get completely lost in the shuffle. Oh, and on that note, most of these songs will sound much worse when thrown into a library-shuffle. Therein lies Embodiment’s plagued dichotomy, as it is more often than not excessive as a whole but too disjointed and fragmented on its own. As a result, Embodiment certainly ripens with age and patience, though for such a supposedly personal release, dedication may be asking too much from the listener.
For some, Embodiment is a masterpiece display of textural compositional prowess, for others it’s no more than a pretentious, unlistenable mess. I’ve found the happy medium, and given the band’s apparent confusion regarding whether the project is an exercise in technical execution or personal expression, that’s the best reception they can hope for.
A highly varied grouping of the early jazz-death scene, avant-classical compositions with a touch of Maiden, Embodiment: Collapsing Under the Weight of God will certainly annoy, reward and confuse listeners for the rest of the year. Once again, take from that what you will.