Album Review: Rannoch - Conflagrations
Reviewed by Sam Jones
It’s been a hot minute since I checked out any outright progressive death metal, but here we are amongst Rannoch’s third full length work, Conflagrations. Formed in 2004 out of the Midlands, United Kingdom, Rannoch have long been a small band boasting usually just two or three members, something that’s a stark contrast to the often bloated member itineraries many progressive acts sport. It took time, a 2008 EP was released but their first full length work wouldn’t be released until 2013, Between Two Worlds, nearly a decade after their formation. 2015 saw their Age Of The Locust EP but it wouldn’t until 2020 that their sophomore album, Reflections Upon Darkness, would see the light of day. Now just three years on, Rannoch are set to unveil Conflagrations, their third album, through Willowtip Records. I was curious to see what this album, and band, would bring.
It’s a pretty effective opening Rannoch implement here; the band understand they’ve only got a handful of songs to keep us engaged and nearly an hour of runtime to use so instead of throwing us headfirst into the mire, they choose to ease us into their record with a soundscape that slowly climbs and collects strength, which then plunges us into the thick of it. Once that’s been established, Rannoch opt then to hold nothing back as they fully embrace the pounding and bass-driven aesthetic Conflagrations is going to boast. But while that power becomes increasingly apparent, from the start the band demonstrate how they’ve got numerous tricks to attach onto their primary songwriting. Loftier, sustained vocals as well as guitar notes that hang high in the mix to lend this record an ethereal nature; the band wear their progressive style on their selves right at the start and it’s only going to evolve as we delve further in.
That sense of a bass-boosted mix is instantly reinforced by a performance that reminds you that you’re not going to have your hand held throughout. “Prism Black”, the first true song of the album, immediately wipes away any preconceptions or worries you may have possessed prior to listening for, herein, the band offer a fully understood realisation of death metal before they implement any majorly progressive elements. The mix crafts a record that chooses not to stand back and play timidly from a distance, rather Rannoch thrust it straight into our faces where there’s no escape not room to breathe. The additional bass coursing through the record also results in a soundscape that is amplified to the max, where our senses are battered, and our engagement is held at all times.
But while the band may harness an acute understanding of what fans of extreme metal would want to discover, that doesn’t mean they shoehorn their own progressive fancies away for minute durations. The band truly sport a progressive death metal moniker for once their main assault is done with, the band will then hurl themselves I to the segments that help separate Conflagrations from the myriad of death metal works we’ve had this year thus far. Rather than continuously intertwine their progressive sections throughout the songwriting, Rannoch have gone for a simplified approach whereby the progressive style is brought into play after the main dose of death metal. Now some bands would rather intersperse things a little more, but it works for Rannoch’s in-your-face style of songwriting whereby the progressive touches allow us a chance to breathe and bask in unique phases amongst their onslaught.
It must be said that Rannoch do well to ensure these tracks are kept entertaining and exciting even when many of them touch nine minutes long, and the concluding piece almost scrapes seventeen in total. I did have some apprehensions initially as it’s been some time since I checked out new progressive death metal, yet just a few songs in I knew those fears over how my time was spent were needless for Rannoch perform and conduct themselves with exceptional professionalism. These guys have been playing for nearly two decades and you can feel that ability ooze through every second and aspect that makes up this band. They can make nearly ten minute tracks feel seamlessly small and capable to digest; that’s no small feat and especially when the band, while delving into progressive elements, ultimately don’t venture too far away from the crux nature of death metal on the whole. The band understand what they can do, and what they can implement within their songwriting, but in the end know themselves and what fans would best wish to experience.
In conclusion, Rannoch give us a competent record that has a lot in store for us to find and enjoy. The band are certainly confident in their progressive tendencies, however they don’t let that stop them from sporting quality death metal from start to finish. The band’s pacing and songwriting is to be commended since they’re able to throw these length tracks at us without ever once pressing us down or feeling like it needs to get moving at some point. Better yet, their near seventeen minute opus that concludes the record does so with not a hint in sight that the band are overstaying themselves or are not giving us enough to warrant attention maintained for such longevity. Rannoch are a band I’ll need to check out some more, for this third full length record gives us a lot of material to work with and it shall no doubt be further enjoyed upon repeat listens. A work of modern progressive death metal done right, Conflagrations is an intoxicating listen that will pull you into Rannoch’s soundscape and render you so at home amongst their performance you’ll hardly wish to leave.