Review Summary: Despite its hollow center, Flies To Flame has enough substance to keep fans tided over until their next release, and simultaneously serves as a tribute to the band’s past.
Before last year, self-proclaimed “Astronaut-Metal” act from Philadelphia had floated along on a rather steady course of progress through the years, as if their evolution in sound was dictated by Newton’s first law in the very environment they seek to emulate. That all changed when they dropped The Anaesthete just last fall. The album’s foray into unfamiliar territory was met with mixed reception from fans. Condensed track lengths and a few curveball additions, like the piano track and the artwork, intrigued some but left others longing for something more akin to their previous works.
Enter Flies to Flame. To call it a return to form would be misleading, as it was written and recorded around the same time as The Anaesthete, but released afterwards. Instead, it serves as both a missing link and a throwback to the band’s past.
The album pushes off with Soot, a brooding track that slowly intensifies over layers of guitar and the genre’s oh-so-quintessential tom groove. Distant shouts and radio chatter phase in and out, until finally erupting into Rosetta’s characteristic wall of sound. Mike Armine’s fierce vocals add primal texture to sparkling guitar tones, soaring over the drummer’s relentless 4-against-3 polyrhythm. This is Rosetta firing on all cylinders; conjuring forth both beauty and fury all at once in one colossal slab of noise. This intensity is not seen again until the EP’s final track, Pegasus, which blasts off like the rocket of its namesake, leaving the listener pinned to their seats by its sudden force. Easily the strongest track on the record, it is the ultimate manifestation of Rosetta’s transition between their last two albums, and is certain to appeal to fans of both.
Unfortunately, these two tracks are bookends to an otherwise unremarkable, ambient center of the album. Seven Years with Nothing to Show could easily have been on their sophomore effort, Wake/Lift. It’s name is likely no coincidence, with it being written roughly seven years after the band’s inception in 2005. Peaceful guitar parts echo and splash over a wall of metallic sheen that almost seems to breathe as the song progresses. While rather uniform throughout, it carries just a hint of dissonance and tension that contrasts with an otherwise placid tone. This level of subtlety would be more greatly appreciated on an LP, something of more considerable length, where it could be expanded upon or even used as a motif. The next track, Les Mots Et Les Choses, climbs slowly upwards, with more and more layers of sound being added. It eventually swallows the radio chatter playing throughout, before eventually receding in a tidal fashion, exposing it once more. This gradual song structure brings forth imagery of some massive object slowly passing by, like a ship or even some astral body. The experience is pleasant, but this track and the drone-esque one before it take up a considerable amount of the album’s time. We know Rosetta understands that ambiance takes time to establish, but they have devoted nearly half of Flies to Flame’s 31 minute runtime to it. As a result, they have unintentionally created an experience that is as uneven in quality as it is in style. Even one more non-ambient track would have been enough to make the album feel more balanced.
It is worth mentioning that 2014 has been a fruitful year for atmospheric metal of all kinds. Relatively new contenders like Locktender, The Great Old Ones, and Saor are gaining recognition, just in time to join with old staples, like Jakob and Agalloch, who have made their long-awaited returns. While it is unclear how long it will be until Rosetta’s orbit brings them back around with another album, fans can likely expect a continuation of the change in style we saw on last year’s The Anaesthete. Despite its hollow center, Flies To Flame has enough substance to keep fans tided over until their next release, and simultaneously serves as a tribute to the band’s past.
In summation, I give Flies To Flame 3.5 French Sociologists out of 5.