Photo: Minor Cortes Photography
Formed in San Jose, Costa Rica in 2005, melodic death metal unit Sight of Emptiness made a major impression two years later when they won the Unsigned Band contest at the Bloodstock Open Air festival (where they also played the main stage); that same year saw the release of their debut full-length album Trust is a Disease. From there, the band's career skyrocketed as they became virtually their country's metal spokesmen. To follow their strong sophomore record Absolution of Humanity, they embarked on their most ambitious project to date, collaborating with a gallery of premier names across the spectrum of hard rock and metal to produce their latest offering, Instincts.
I'll admit that I hadn't heard much of SOE's work prior to this one, so I dug into the first two albums as well to bring myself up to speed. What I heard was a distinct and personal imprint, which builds on the foundation of Sweden's "Gothenburg sound" made famous by bands like At the Gates, Amorphis, In Flames and Hypocrisy, then incorporates textures from a more diverse cultural background, including Latin percussion, folk and jazz. Those elements come across very effectively in tracks like the frantic “Obsession,” energizing a subgenre that's been around since the late '80s and revitalizing it, while the contributions of former Scar Symmetry vocalist Christian Älvestam on powerful tracks like the swift and battering "Fearless," the moody down-tempo "Deception" (which offers a nice prog-metal interlude) and the raging, heart-racing "Hostility" bring the Swedish connection full circle. The leading single “Essence,” also the album's opening cut, is less musically challenging and not fully representative of the band – but it's still a blistering piece, with a surprising guest vocal from Whitfield Crane of Ugly Kid Joe.
While the album's second half doesn't pack as many sweet hooks as the first, it does offer room for the band to stretch beyond the genre's confines and introduce more of those exotic textures I mentioned earlier, as well as expanding the production and fully tapping the electro talents of keyboardist Gabriel Arias Barquero and the fat rhythms of Rodrigo Chaverri, especially on tracks like “Passion,” the lush, colorful instrumental “Sanctuary” and the surprisingly warm "Paradox." (In a cool nod to the band's unofficial role as Costa Rica's musical ambassadors, that track also features a sweet piano coda by none other than the country's Minister of Culture, Manuel Obregon.) The opus comes to a properly epic conclusion with “Departure,” which incorporates about a dozen different musical styles before finally diving (literally) into full-on metalstep bass drops. EDM isn't nearly as kind to melodic death metal as its more industrially-inclined brethren, but it's still a fun curiosity piece.
Photo: Minor Cortes Photography
Even with benefit of the guest talent aboard – all of whom turn in some of their finest work – Instincts is definitely SOE's most fully-realized and personal album, and their creative voice comes through stronger than ever, making this one of the better recent entries in a genre that has otherwise been running on a pretty level track for the past few years. You'll be able to tell for yourself if this is the juice the genre needed when Instincts drops next Tuesday.