Album Review: Spinebreaker – Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition

Album Review: Spinebreaker - Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition
Reviewed by Sam Jones

Spinebreaker are a relatively new act to enter my interests. I first became aware of then through the artwork of Brad Moore, whose designs from Gatecreeper, Krotchripper, Sedimentum and many more have made him an easily identifiable artist, utilising macabre and abstract landscapes to effortlessly snare our attention. Spinebreaker themselves, out of California, United States, formed back in 2013 and are immediately different to many of their contemporaries owing to their fusion of death metal and hardcore elements. They released their Hang The Huldra EP in 2013 yet it would be another three years before their first studio release, Ice Grave, was set loose in 2016. The band went quiet for a time, at least, up until rumoured work was begun on a new record by the band; that record would soon be titled Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition, their first considerable release in a few years. The art entranced me but I was betting on their music being even more prestigious, so let’s see what we can make of Spinebreaker’s coagulant release.

The first thing I can say about Spinebreaker is they know howto work with momentum. The band’s pacing may differ here and there pending on the track they’re playing with yet there’s always this underlying power driving their sound forward, even when the initial riff is sludgier, heavier and more trudging. The opening track is a stellar example, “Beneath Our Blood Stained Sun”, where the band give us a quick demonstration of how their songwriting will meander through the differing pacings the record eventually fleshes out with time, but it then undergoes the crux of its riff and it’s this guitar-led piece that has a secondary assault tucked beneath whilst drumming thickens the tone of their performance. As a result, Spinebreaker inform us immediately of the attitude their sound will entail and that, even during their slower periods, we must be ready for sudden bursts of power since much of their momentum is actually beneath the surface, prepared to break the water.

It’s also one of the more atmospherically immersive albums I’ve come across that doesn’t utilise traditional atmospheric elements. The immersion this record instils is striking, and Spinebreaker get underway with this concept quickly, especially when they’re only gifting us with twenty-five minutes in all of their material. It reminds me of what the best of death metal these prior years have mustered where the songwriting and band’s own performances are what bring audiences into the fray, then keep them there for more. The soundscape the band provide is total, there’s little room for our senses to move around in; we’re fully subjected to their performance however it’s been mixed just enough so that whatever they throw at us, it’s not so totally crushing that we’re likely to feel suppressed by the end. I’ve heard cavernous records before where this has been the case and thankfully, Spinebreaker do it right. It’s an enveloping and darkly captivating record that shows who is in command but doesn’t needlessly stranglehold you.

Album Review: Spinebreaker – Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition

Now, maybe it’s the hardcore influences working into the songwriting but, the band’s riffs and overall approach to songwriting is one that lets its own performance breathe. By this, I refer to how the band haven’t just written six tracks solely composed of blistering stream-like riffs where the entire track length of whatever you’re listening to doesn’t deviate from run-of-the-mill death metal licks; the majority of tracks herein aren’t too long, the last of which is the lengthiest, preceded by a ninety second piece, sees us taken through multiple hoops and corners as the songwriting is shown to be malleable and ever-changing. It isn’t done to the extent that Progressive death metal would attempt, but it still showcases Spinebreaker’s refusal to limit themselves within a four-walled box and have that labelled as their sound. The natural vibe their transformative songwriting assumes is excellent as it feels completely organic to each track’s evolution from beginning to end. The riffs can be faster, chunkier, ripping, coupled in doublets or triplets; it’s an impressive variety to note in a record that doesn’t stay on the whole for very long. Ultimately, it enables the band’s own cavernous sound to breathe since they’re aren’t constantly bombarding us with sonic annihilation out of fear a less punishing performance wouldn’t engage us at all times. Spinebreaker respect the audience and their intelligence.

I do appreciate how the drums never initiate any kind of blast beat throughout the record. This could have been a prime record for blast beats to just be inserted for the sake of providing additional devastation, yet the decision to refrain from including blast beats in their work allows our attention to take in the full breadth of the band’s performance. Owing to the bass-heavy soundscape (equally in instrumentation as in the mix), applying blast beats could have pushed this record into more punishing vistas and reduced the occasions fans would return to this work, knowing the pressure the band would therefore subject them to. This old school approach to the drums herein allows them to seamlessly blend in with the rest of the instrumentation, binding everything together into a streamlined performance that feels perfectly natural and works well with the acoustics the Tom-toms offer, as they bounce off the album’s walls.

In conclusion, Spinebreaker’s Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition is this Hardcore and Death Metal hybrid that gets things absolutely spot on for what they were looking to achieve with this record. Whether we view this as an EP or a mini-album doesn’t matter too much in this case, for Spinebreaker offer a twenty-five minute opus that perfectly teases hopefully something bigger and developed in the near future. I would certainly be down for such a record as this has absolutely got me on board with Spinebreaker’s sound. There’s plenty of variety going on throughout the songwriting and Spinebreaker demonstrate, as we’ve discussed, how their appeal is not confined to the immediate riffs and vocal performances alone. It’s how everything is brought together to make each track inviting and fascinating as their atmosphere easily intoxicates with crushing might. Colour me interested, I’m a fan.

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