Philadelphia post-metal quintet Rosetta released their sixth full-length album Utopioid last week, and I figured I owed it to the band I named my daughter after to give their new offering a review. The troupe has been around since the peak of post-metal saturation; their debut, The Galilean Satellites, was released in 2005, right alongside undisputed classics like Isis’ Panopticon, Cult of Luna’s Salvation, and Neurosis’ The Eye of Every Storm. For my money, The Galilean Satellites – released as a metal side and an ambient side designed to be played simultaneously – is the pinnacle of the genre.
Truth be told, most post-metal bands reached their personal apex in the mid-2000s, and with the style’s emphasis on minimalism in composition and performance, there isn’t much left to be said a decade later. It is a fairly rare area for worthwhile new bands to pop up, but some veterans continue to till the soil and breathe fresh air into their sound. Cult of Luna has done this by increasing their use of electronic elements, and more recently by collaborating with Julie Christmas to produce my favourite album of last year, Mariner. Rosetta did this by adding City of Ships’ guitarist and vocalist Eric Jernigan, who brought a tasteful degree of post-hardcore/emo influence into their stark sound for their fifth album, 2015’s Quintessential Ephemera. On Utopioid, Rosetta has proudly stated that the composition process was more balanced and communal than ever before, and it shows.
From day one, Rosetta has largely adhered to post-metal’s foundational principle of churning and exploring single riffs extensively, never being too eager to move a song far from its central idea, but rather creating dynamics and atmospheres around one musical idea. Utopioid persists in this vein, but the way that the band crafts complete creatures from simple skeletons has never been more beautiful. Previous Rosetta albums have been hit-and-miss, as far as overall production quality goes, but they got every mixing and mastering detail right this time, and that perfect production enables the balance and contrast between atmospheric lightness and gut-punching heaviness to stand out more than ever. (I chose that adjective intentionally, because there was a specific moment when I was first listening to the album – the distortion kick-in on penultimate track “Qohelet” – that actually made me go “ugh” out loud, as if I had been punched in the gut.) The distribution between light and dark sides is excellently structured on this album, making the full-blown heavy parts like on “Qohelet”, “Neophyte Visionary”, and “King Ivory Tower” feel special and climactic. The lighter parts are no less interesting, though, with the traditional layers of reverb and delay saturating the listener on “54543”, “Hypnagogic”, and closing track “Intramortem”. Matt Weed and Eric Jernigan play off each other’s guitar parts brilliantly (check out the middle of “Détente”), and B.J. McMurtie’s uniquely rolling, fluid drum lines carry the music along as well as ever. All five band members are credited with vocal contributions, forming a veritable choir of clean voices behind Mike Armine’s signature intense screaming.
Post-metal’s slow burn isn’t for everyone; some may criticize the band for not incorporating more varied musical ideas into Utopioid’s hour-long runtime. But that’s not Rosetta’s game, and with their last three albums being fully self-released, we know Rosetta likes to play by their own rules. They are one of the most successful examples of a band shedding the constraints of the record label paradigm, and continue to make the music they love. Twelve years in, they have lost no steam, and since they are generous enough to post their albums as name-your-price on Bandcamp, I would suggest supporting them so they can keep it up. They’re also embarking on a couple of major tours soon, both in the Americas and overseas, so keep an eye out for them in your area – all post-metal sounds better live, and these guys are no exception.
Release date: 1 September 2017
1. Amnion – 4:11
2. Intrapartum – 7:50
3. Neophyte Visionary – 6:33
4. King Ivory Tower – 8:12
5. 54543 – 4:10
6. Détente – 7:20
7. Hypnagogic – 9:06
8. Qohelet – 7:05
9. Intramortem – 7:53
Total running time: 62:20
Mike Armine – vocals, electronics
Dave Grossman – bass, vocals
Eric Jernigan – guitars, vocals, keyboards
Bruce McMurtrie Jr – drums, percussion, vocals
Matt Weed – guitars, vocals, keyboards
Filetype listened to: MP3
Bitrate: 320 kbit/s CBR
Sampling frequency: CD/44,100 Hz, 2 channels