A decade has passed since Ohio's MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT unassumingly crept into what was then a burgeoning post-metal scene, and quickly converted many a fan with a memorable debut that was steeped in equal parts pulverizing power and sublime atmospherics.
Since then, the band has enjoyed less widespread acclaim than they probably deserved, endured more lineup instability than most peers, and now, after five years of further uncertainty, must figure out where they and their fourth long player (not counting multiple splits and EP releases), 2013's "Dawning", fit in the grand scheme of things.
After all, on the one hand, its not like the post-metal scene withered and croaked along with ISIS (if it did, someone forget to tell NEUROSIS, CULT OF LUNA, et al); on the other, its commercial and critical heyday certainly appear to be in the past-tense for the time being; so in some respects, MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT have something of a blank slate to work with, and that surely explains both the novelties and familiar hallmarks brought to bear on this occasion.
For instance, on the album's first, typically protracted musical movement, "Lullabye" (sic), recognizable contrasts of bowel-vacating power chords and keening melodies make way for a newly developed, multi-pronged assault of coordinated gang roars and counterpoint screams.
On the ensuing, "It Swarms", the band takes things another step beyond into clean singing, but rest assured that the supporting guitar grumbles, echoing drums, and searing keyboard lines (almost Gaelic in flavor) are otherwise pure MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT.
For its part, "Sharpen Your Axes", resembles recent INTRONAUT efforts with its rolling percussion, hypnotic reverberations and chorused voices, while the initially rote "How this will End" finds its differential through a gentle, minimalist midsection, and "Patterns", too, explores sparser ambiance via murmured samples, controlled volume swoops, and gentle vocals backed by insistent tribal drums, and bookended by sweeping riffs, all of it to excellent effect.
And this leads to album closer and arguable high point, "The Other Son", which boasts some of the most immediate and fetching harmonies of the band's career on its way to producing a shockingly rare true chorus around its title. In fact, on the evidence of this stupendous final track alone, one almost feels comfortable handing over the keys to the post-metal kingdom to MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT, but let's resist and not be hasty?
Yes, the Ohio group may have staved off elimination from the game yet again with "Dawning", but its members still have some work to do to recover the album-spanning imagination of yesteryear AND prove they can contend, innovate and produce new material on a more regular basis moving forward.
Then and only then, will we know if MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT can transcend their likeable underdog reputation and reward the faith of those who have championed them thus far; but, in the meantime, it sure is nice to have them back.