Review Summary: Rosetta branch out, making some additions to their sound as well as venturing into darker territory.
Occupying their own niche in the often confined and incestuous world of post-metal music, Rosetta has made a small name for themselves, playing what they call, "Metal for Astronauts". Vast songs, filled with nuanced use of atmosphere and slow-drifting walls of sound certainly fit that description. In their last album, A Determinism of Morality, the band began trimming their songs into smaller, yet still cohesive, segments that stand on their own. Their most recent release, The Anaesthete (Greek, for one who is unable to appreciate art or beauty), continues this trend with nine tracks -- one of them even clocking in at just over 3 minutes. We also get to see Rosetta stretch their legs a little in this record; still refining their previous styles, but yet trying new directions in sound at the same time. The experimental nature of The Anaesthete proves to be a double-edged sword, as I'll get into below.
One of the first things Rosetta fans will notice in The Anaesthete is the sense of darkness that permeates it, compared to their previous works. If Rosetta is metal for astronauts, then The Anaesthete is a ship that has strayed too close to the iron grip of a black hole. It spirals further and further down as it progresses; providing a brief respite in the form of Hodoku / Compassion, before taking the final plunge into the abyss at the very end. Hodoku is also noteworthy, not only because it features guest vocals from City Of Ships' Eric Jernigan, but because it sounds nothing like what Rosetta has done before. Matt Weed's sparkling guitar part and simply beautiful piano accompaniment creates an enchanting aural landscape, and while clean vocals are often a point of contention among fans of this genre, it is difficult to deny how well they work here.
Speaking of vocals, they're mixed higher than ever before in The Anaesthete. Mike Armine's familiar, commanding roar seizes control right from the beginning of the track, Fudo / The Immovable Deity, as he belts out shouts that fiercely drive the song forward. His voice has always managed to convey a sense of emotion in their works, and it is no different here. On tracks like Ryu / Tradition and Hara / The Center, he almost sounds in pain at times; desperately screaming into some great expanse for someone... anyone, to hear him. Rosetta's rhythm section is certainly no slouch this time around, either. 'BJ' McMurtrie's drumming brings some much-needed energy to the genre, remaining one of my personal favorites in music. The way he furiously works his way around the snare and toms, while still maintaining the proper accents and oh-so-essential quarter note pulse is spectacular. At times it could probably seem a bit excessive, but his use of dynamics keep BJ's playing from suffocating the rest of the music. Dave Grossman's bass playing is always easy to pick out in songs, with him pushing out impressive high tones in the song In & Yo / Dualities of the Way, and even carrying a piece of the melody when it winds down in the middle of the track. And of course, there's the crunchy bass distortion that dominates the ending of Ku / Emptiness.
However, don't let my gushing over the band's individual parts fool you. The band's voyage into unfamiliar ground with the Anaesthete has yielded some mixed results. For instance, the double-instrumental conclusion to the album is exhausting and ultimately unfulfilling. While Ku / Emptiness and Shugyo / Austerity aren't particularly bad on their own (Shugyo's ominous, unsettling tone could easily be at home on a Neurosis record), it's their consecutive lineup that doesn't serve the album well at all.
Myo / The Miraculous, while ferocious as it is short, can't help but seem a tad one-dimensional and lacking. Especially when compared to Oku / The Secrets, which crushes mountains with its heaviness and still manages to make transitions and sound like a complete work. I especially love the brief moment of silence in the first half of the song, building up tension before coming crashing back with more force than before. The song fades out at the end, like some sort of massive titan lumbering away -- searching for its next village to flatten.
Ignoring their ambitious debut, The Anaesthete is Rosetta's most experimental record to date. The band continues to streamline their songs, while making new expeditions into darker and heavier territory. However, I have little doubt that Hara / The Center and the appropriately named Ryu / Tradition are likely to be fan favorites on this album, simply because they resemble their previous works while still sounding fresh and refined. The rest of the album is a bit more divisive. I think the band said it the best, when warning fans on their website that "If one of our previous releases is in your personal top 5 or whatever, then the new stuff might actually be frustrating to you. If you’re more in the “wonder what’s coming next"” camp, then they should be pretty exciting".
Despite its compositional error and lack of depth in a few of the tracks, The Anaesthete is still an enjoyable work with plenty of moments. All in all, I give it 4 completely-unexpected album artworks out of 5.