The members of Converge are some of the busiest in heavy music, with Umbra Vitae‘s ‘Shadow Of Life’ the latest to spring from their apparently endless well of savage creativity.
It would be doing the band a slight disservice to compare them too heavily to Converge, however, given the inclusion of Jacob Bannon on vocals combined with Kurt Ballou‘s production, at times it can be hard not to think of the incredible work that band has produced over the last three decades.
Dissonant guitars, drums, the sound of shattering glass, Bannon‘s infernal vocals; all are synonymous with the heaviest side of Converge‘s ouvre, which means, at times, Umbra Vitae‘s approach can feel decidedly similar to the sound and vision of its more famous brother.
Bannon‘s unmistakeable scream is one of the finest in heavy music, and his presence looms largest over ‘Shadow Of Life’. On vocal highlight and lead single, ‘Mantra Of Madness’, he fully commits to the bear-like ruthlessness of his technique, as well as slurring demonically during a brief but unsettling call-and-response section.
Atop his vocals, Bannon‘s lyrics and general aesthetic vision are once again impressive and distinct. He has a poet’s sensibility, and unleashes it here once again; “Fear is the fossil of primal logic / The great suppressor of true progress,” howls ‘Fear Is A Fossil’; “Destroy the ego, radiate love / Carve out a purpose where there was none,” urges ‘Return To Zero’. His lyrical fascinations with calm and ascension show up frequently, and, as ever, they make an intriguing contrast to the savage heaviness of the music.
Guitarists Mike Mckenzie (The Red Chord) and Sean Martin (ex-Hatebreed) do solid jobs with the adrenaline-surging, tremolo-picked riffs. ‘Intimate Inferno’ contains some solidly evil moments, as well as a back-half loaded with atmospheric leads. ‘Blood Blossom’ plays out similarly too, and ends with a well-executed traditional death metal solo.
Bassist Greg Weeks (The Red Chord) and drummer Jon Rice (ex-Job For A Cowboy) provide a competent rhythm section, with Rice‘s blasts and rapid-fire fills in particular hitting the extreme metal heights that the band are striving for. All round, ‘Shadow Of Life’ is well envisioned and well executed.
Yet, something feels missing. Perhaps it’s down to the knowledge that Umbra Vitae‘s various members have produced greater work in their respective pasts. That’s not just a reference to Bannon and Ballou; The Red Chord are one of the finest modern death metal bands, and each member boasts an impeccable CV.
The album just never quite achieves a distinguished sense of individuality. The relentlessness of the songwriting starts to become wearisome around its midpoint, and, although it admittedly picks up towards the end where the songs expand a little, there’s not a lot of tonal, or textural nuance for a large portion of its runtime.
‘Shadow Of Life’ delivers the requisite brutality, just without the lasting impact. It’s an interesting enough footnote in the careers of its members, but it never truly lands with the searing force of some of their finest hours.