Review Summary: Rings of Saturn deliver a tantalizingly weird album that, despite being a chore to listen to all at once, is full of moments that make it worth probing.
Rings of Saturn have been a pretty polarizing band throughout their early career. The group began as one of those dreaded internet phenomenon, with a single song that spread virally and landed them a record contract within months, and they’re probably as notorious for a speed-doctoring controversy as they are for their hyperkinetic deathcore. Of course, there was never any substantial evidence that Rings of Saturn cheated by recording their debut at half-tempo, and their live performances have dispelled the notion that they can’t play it anyway. Now on their third LP, Rings of Saturn are starting to find a comfortable niche between mainstream death metal and the experiments of Cynic and Between the Buried and Me. While their brand of “aliencore” isn’t totally novel – Wormed, for one, have landed their spaceship here a few times – it’s also curious enough to deserve a few listens from the adventurous metal head.
The first thing you’ll notice upon spinning Lugal Ki En
is that every member of Rings of Saturn has some insane technical chops. The bucket-of-knives tempo changes in “Lalassu Xul” and stop-start rhythms of opener “Senseless Massacre” are in the class of bands like Deathspell Omega and Ulcerate (genre disparities notwithstanding), which is awesome so long as you can make coherent songs out of such brittle textures. Guitarists Lucas Mann and Joel Omans alternate between seismic low-end riffing, spastic mid-range runs, and deedly-doo arpeggios, with one or the other usually holding down the fort via distorted power chords. Some of the melodic pieces here are jaw-dropping, such as the waterfall textures of “Infused” in which rapidly-descending sweeps are panned right and left between each note to delightfully dizzying effect. Drummer Aaron Kitcher spends his time blasting away behind the assault of guitars, pausing at seemingly random intervals that somehow line up with whatever the heck the rest of the instruments happen to be doing at that time.
Mann appears to again be the band’s (ahem) ringleader, and when Rings of Saturn decides to get weird, they get weird
. “Lalassu Xul” begins with a harpsichord playing simultaneous Dm and
D#m7 arpeggios, which basically means a bunch of weird microtones that throw the song’s tonal center completely out of orbit. The guitars take up the same otherworldly mantra as the drums enter in swing time…like, what are these guys thinking? And how does it actually sound pretty cool? The song breaks into some more relatively normal scattershot riffing as Ian Bearer growls and squeals his way into the mix, and just when it’s getting into a groove, everything drops out. That harpsichord comes back for half a measure, and then is promptly obliterated by more machine-gun riffing. It all makes for some volcanic songwriting, but you can only dice a measure so many ways before the carefully-calculated rhythms begin to sound like a huge, repetitive mess of noise. Then again, Cynic and Atheist made a career out of screwing with your head, so as long as Mann and company can keep from totally recycling ideas, there’s ground yet to be covered.
Give Rings of Saturn credit for employing just about every imaginable melodic and rhythmic technique at some point to keep Lugal Ki En
listenable. “The Heavens Have Fallen” serves as a great climax to the album, and despite its seven-minute run time, is one of its more coherent cuts. Mann and Omans play about eleventeen different lock-step riffs throughout the song’s opening barrage, which is followed by a strange, choppy acoustic-led break. The song, which proves to be instrumental (much to everyone’s delight), resumes its slash-and-burn riffing for another minute before giving way to ambient keyboards. There’s no way to keep synth pads from sounding cheesy on their own, but as they give way to more acoustic(ish) guitar, they restore a sense of much-needed tranquility before “No Pity for A Coward” returns to mop things up and end the album on a typically furious note. For all their bonkers songwriting, Rings of Saturn are just crazy and coherent enough to bring you back again. So sure, they’re just full of BS as every other “technical” and “experimental” metal band (just listen to the vocal sample that ends the album), but when Lugal Ki En
goes off the deep end, it's worth waiting to see what insanity Rings of Saturn have up their collective sleeve.