Review Summary: Rosetta combine their spacey metal aesthetic with punch-in-the-face hardcore dynamics.
Somewhere around a year ago, Rosetta
posted the following on their MySpace blog:
'Tonight at practice we had this collective epiphany where we threw off the shackles of the whole "post-metal" thing and decided that WE'RE DONE WITH 105 BPM. BRING ON 150 BPM! So we wrote our ENTIRE NEXT RECORD in an hour, and it's the fastest, craziest, kick-in-the-nuts thing since 1999.'
Underneath the facetiousness is some real frustration. Rosetta have always been uncomfortable being branded as a 'post-metal' group, to the point where the Genre section on their Facebook page currently reads 'Anything put "post"'. To be fair, their debut The Galilean Satellites
bears more than a passing resemblance to the NeurISIS sound. Rosetta, however, have always been a staunchly DIY band and so the similarities to that genre are far more aesthetic than ideological.
This frustration seems to be the driving force behind A Determinism of Morality
(ADOM from here on), Rosetta's third full-length and a real stylistic evolution. Far from being written in an hour, ADOM feels like a meticulously crafted piece of work that takes all of Rosetta's best qualities and shifts them towards a faster, more streamlined aesthetic. ADOM takes far more cues from post-hardcore acts such as Gospel and Frodus than it does from post-rock or metal, adopting techniques like gang vocals ("Revolve"), stop-start dynamics ("Ayil") and fast, ballsy riffs ("Renew"). But ADOM isn't just a "kick-in-the-nuts" either. Each song hosts some of the most beautiful and delicate moments of the band's career to date. As Wake/Lift
did to a lesser extent, ADOM almost completely eschews traditional post-rock build-ups in favour of a more dynamically consistent approach to structure.
Instead of easing us in to the evolved sound, ADOM begins with its fastest, most jarring track. Much like Wake/Lift
's opener "Red in Tooth and Claw", "Ayil" is a demonstration of the group's mastery of dynamics and full of anthemic, fist-in-the-air moments. Vocalist Mike Armine delivers one of his most intense performances to date underneath the song's galloping drumming and noodle-y guitar work. Indeed, all of the band members seem to have improved their playing both in technique and diversity. Drummer B.J. McMurtie's playing on previous releases was fancy and dynamically tasteful, but on ADOM he also proves he can rock the fuck out with the best of them. Dave Grossman has always taken a solid, meat-and-potatoes approach to his bass playing (the perfect complement to Matt Weed's noisy, all-over-the-place guitar) and ADOM sees him becoming more adept, taking a more active and melodic role. Matt Weed's guitar is perhaps the thing that most sets Rosetta apart from their peers and his techniques are improved considerably here, like with the noisy stop-start riffing at the end of "Ayil" or the tasteful tapping at the end of "Renew". Weed's playing, however, moves away even further from being solely riff-based and sees him combining brutal, tight metal riffs with heavily delayed ambience that finds its niche equally in soft moments and in heavy ones.
"Ayil" is almost hardcore in its structure, riffing, and speed while still retaining the ambience and atmosphere that is crucial to the Rosetta sound. The rest of the album is equally straight-forward. "Je N'en Connais Pas la Fin", one of the best songs in the band's career so far, starts with a straight beat until vocals burst in and then gradually gets heavier until the song ends. The song avoids cliche by staying loud the entire time with guitar parts shifting from picked riffs to start-stop powerchords to spacey lead lines to tremolo picking and finally to chugging, Meshuggah-esque riffing. "Revolve", another highlight, follows a similar structure and employs gang vocals in conjunction to pretty, shimmery riffing to create one of the album's most emotionally poignant moments. "Blue Day For Croatoa" is the lone exception to the straight-forward approach of the rest of the album, being a short ambient piece in the vein of "(Temet Nosce)". Almost all ADOM's tracks stay below the seven minute mark and it's perhaps fitting that the one that exceeds it is the album closer. "A Determinism of Morality" clocks in at almost eleven minutes, not a second of which is wasted. The album version is improved in every way from the demo version that has been floating around the internet for about six months now. The drumming is more crisp and dynamic, the guitars are more clear and defined and the vocals are even more in-your-face. As a demo, the song was already one of the best Rosetta tracks to date. Now, fully realised, in all its glory with added gang vocals, "A Determinism of Morality" is a defining song that condenses everything great about Rosetta into a single track.
For me, what makes Rosetta a great band is their ability to combine all of their instrumental tricks and techniques, their tightness as a band, and their fondness for major-key prettiness into big, loud, expansive, heavy pieces. Their music in its final form becomes a wholly visceral experience because of the meticulous forethought that goes into it. ADOM adds dimensions to that sound, making it hit even harder on a gut-level but also crafting it into a more dense, thoughtful experience. In its brevity and evolution, ADOM is Rosetta's best work to date.