Review Summary: Anatomy of Habit blend indie rock, post, doom, and sludge into a work of sonic art that will remain with the listener for a long time.
The phrase "genre defying" is overused in music reviews. Generally, whenever a review puts "genre defying" into a review, it means one of two things: either it's well rooted in one genre but tosses in a few elements that aren't normally in there, or it mishmoshes several sounds together to varying degrees of effectiveness. We're in a time where nearly every possible sound has been thoroughly categorized, named, and argued ad nauseam on internet forums. From sludge metal with bagpipes (Smallman
) to black metal with jazz trumpets (Ephel Duath
), there's nothing truly new under the sun.
I say all this to say this. Anatomy of Habit is not genre-defying, but the level of crossbreeding and the manner in which the varying sounds blend and weave about one another are truly special.
A trope in most rock and metal is that within the first minute of the first track on an album (discounting any intro track) you'll have a generally good idea of what the rest of it will sound like. Even if you aren't a big fan of that particular song, you know how the band sounds. Anatomy of Habit does not roll this way. Depending on when someone walks in while you're listening to this album, they may think you've got on indie rock, industrial metal, sludge, or post rock. The opening riff of "After the Water" sounds almost tranquil, but when the doom kicks in, you'll see why it started as it did. The most remarkable thing is that not only are these elements not simply layered atop one another, but they shift so effortlessly from one to another it's much like watching a gentle gradation of color and trying to figure out when the red turned to blue.
This is a long album. Not in total run time, that's not even an hour, but in composition. The 52 minute run-time is split amongst only four tracks, with the first being the shortest at a paltry 7 minutes and 27 seconds. It probably goes without saying that repetition is a central feature of Anatomy of Habit's soundscapes, but this is not the "let's take a riff and loop it for five minutes before changing to another" from doom metal, but rather the swelling and building that typifies post rock. That said, what AoH does take from doom and post metal is the heavy, lurching, dark sound that drives that build. These are death marches, not the soundtrack to a movie.
Strictly speaking, this is not one album, but rather a compilation of their also self-titled LP and EP. However, if one was not told this beforehand, there is little to indicate that this is the case. The aesthetic does not change nor does the recording style. This is, for all intents and purposes, one album and I will continue to treat it as such. This is an enormous compliment to Anatomy of Habit in that it means that, even as they built upon their sound, they remained well rooted within themselves.
In a world of albums with ten-plus minute songs and post elements, one thing that sticks out is that vocals are central to Anatomy of Habit. The vocalist goes through impressive gymnastics over the course of less than an hour, ranging from the half-talk, half-sung sound of indie rock to nigh-chanted bellows, to agonized howls and shrieks when (for example) the track "Overcome" reaches its thumping, monolithic apex, and the album's closer, "Torch" contains reverberating wails atop a riff and pound of the drums that sounds like the band is dragging its own bloodied stumps to the finish. One would be well served to listen closely to the lyrics as well.
It may sound like there are a lot of words that explain why I like this album without a lot of words explaining the sound in much detail, and this is true. Attempting to pin down the sound here would be akin to showing someone a handful of rain. You can describe how it feels against your face, but to try and analyze each drop would be futile. What I will say is that this is an album that is, aesthetically, alongside the heaviest and slowest noise rock albums as well as the most emotional post metal. It's a work of art in the truest sense, and an album that, as soon as it's over, makes you immediately start it anew.
Anatomy of Habit have created a truly special album here. The albums listed as Recommendations are not albums that this sounds like, per se, but rather that they are "spiritual brethren" and fans of them should like this very, very much. I do not hand a 5 out lightly, and frankly didn't want to use one here, but during my second listen in a row this evening I realized I had no choice.