Album Title: Magnum Opus
Label: Black Lion Records
Date of Release: 27 May 2022
This is my first experience of IATT, and I’m listening to ‘Magnum Opus’, their third album, having read some positive reviews elsewhere of previous records. I’m also taking the plunge because the band find themselves on Black Lion Records, a label that has released some very good albums in the last couple of years. Billed as simply ‘extreme metal’ in the press release, but it doesn’t take long to realise that this is a gross over-simplification. Within the music found on ‘Magnum Opus’ you can hear elements of black, death, and progressive metal, as well as plenty more besides. It is quite a daunting listen initially, as there’s a lot to get your head around, but once you get to grips with it, ‘Magnum Opus’ is definitely very rewarding. Except for one element, that is, that threatens to ruin the entire thing for me personally.
The Philadelphia-based quartet is comprised of vocalist/bassist Jay Briscoe, guitarists Joe Cantamessa and Alec Pezzano (who also handles the orchestrations), and drummer Paul Cole. Based on the content of this album, they are undoubtedly a talented bunch of musicians. However, on this ‘Magnum Opus’, they have enlisted the talents of a number of notable guest artists to further expand and flesh out their musical vision. These guests include Ben Karas of Windfaerer and Thank You Scientists fame who adds his violin to a handful of songs, Jake Superchi of Uada, who adds vocals to one song, and a guitar solo from Daryl Baker. So far so good.
And then it all goes a bit wrong. Jorgen Munkeby (Shining, Emperor) and Burial In The Sky’s Zach Strouse are enlisted as guest saxophonists on no less than three songs. And they are not small guest appearances either, as the sax is used extensively in each, either as an extended solo, or as frequent embellishments. No. No, and thrice no. I will readily admit that they are both highly talented individuals, and their contributions reflect this. And I also concede that it is purely my own taste that means I have a problem with the inclusion of the saxophone. But to me, the songs are made worse by their inclusion. I have tried, I really have. But I just don’t want to hear that instrument in the heavy metal. The odd song, I can stomach, but not three, and not this widespread and potent, I’m sorry. Yes, it’s my issue, but I have to be honest. I also want to be fair, so I will award two scores below – one for me, and one for everyone else.
It’s a real shame too, because I like an awful lot of the music on this record, and I hate the fact that the overall experience is compromised by the choices made. But if I’m reviewing an album, I can’t just ignore large swathes of it and pretend they don’t exist.
‘Magnum Opus’ begins in fine fashion too, with ‘Servitude, Subjugate’ exploding into life after an interesting violin-led intro. Throughout the course of the five minutes, we’re hit with savage blackened death metal led by fast-paced drumming, staccato riffs, and dry, rasping growls. But this is cleverly interspersed with moments of quieter reflection, or with out-and-out progressive experimentation, complete with strange sounds and textures woven into the sonic tapestry.
‘Ouroboros’ begins promisingly too, with a noticeable increase in the melodic offering. The vocals flit between the higher-pitched rasps and something deeper. But as we near the two-minute mark, in comes the saxophone of Jorgen Munkeby and I just lose all interest. Delivering both melodic passages as well as deliberately off-kilter sounds, it is present without pause for over a minute and then returns later. Not even the quiet, clean-guitar-led atmospheric section, which is beautiful by the way, can appease me, I’m that disappointed.
‘Prima Materia’ does its best to pull me back to the fold, and to some extent, it succeeds. The overtly Gothic synths that give the song a vague Cradle Of Filth feel are a nice touch, but not overdone, whilst the guitar riffs and blastbeat drumming push the track into greater black metal territory than anything else. What I didn’t expect was the mid-song shift into beautiful but dark melodic opulence that has me grinning from ear to ear. And then, for the love of God, more blasted sax, this time courtesy of Jach Strouse. Seriously? The only saving grace is that it is well played, but isn’t present for too long. And when the guest solo from guitarist Daryl Baker hits, it just emphasises how much better this instrument fits the music than the saxophone.
Tracks such as ‘Elixir Of Immortality’ and ‘Demiurgos (Architect Of Disaster)’ are well-crafted affairs that bring much positivity to proceedings. The former is a slower, more atmospheric track for much of the time, but isn’t shy of mixing up the pace at points, as well as increasing the intricacy when required. The latter is much more aggressive, and faster in tempo, as well as a touch more avant-garde with an odd but satisfying mid-section that features an incredibly bold synth solo amongst other things.
One of my favourite tracks however, has to be the delightful ‘Exculpate, Exonerate’ which features a wonderful cameo from violinist Ben Karas, but which is also one of the most immediate compositions on ‘Magnum Opus’ thanks to arguably the strongest and most overt melodic sensibilities on the entire record. Even when it veers into more progressive climes, the melody remains, which I find very impressive.
‘Planes Of Our Existence’ would be another great composition if it wasn’t for…well you know the rest. At the half-way mark, there’s a marked increase in atmospheric, epic melody which catches my ear only for my excitement to be deflated by another couple of minutes of intermittent saxophone embellishment. ‘Seven Wandering Stars’ by contrast is awash with dextrous, wonderful lead guitar work that only makes me wish that more of the solos could have been guitar-led.
By now, you are no doubt bored of me and my personal soapbox, so I will conclude this review by saying that if certain instruments don’t put you off, you will find a great deal on this latest album from IATT to entertain and intrigue you. Blending a multitude of ideas together as they do is not easy, but by and large IATT are successful with their endeavours. I just wish they’d not made a couple of the choices that they have here. Oh well, I’ll just have to wait until the next album to see what IATT come up with next.
The Score of Much Metal: 68% (85% for everyone else)
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: