Once Human, the band featuring producer and ex-Machine Head axeman Logan Mader, alongside Monte Conner's discovery, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Aussie, Lauren Hart, have followed up their debut album, 2015's 'The Life I Remember', with sophomore offering 'Evolution'. And, true to the release's title, they have indeed evolved. For the better? Depends on your expectations and own listening proclivities, I guess.
First, the musicianship is top-notch. Guitar-wise, Once Human now have a trio of axemen. Aside from Mader himself, Skyler Howren and Max Karon are responsible for the fretboard wizardry. Some riffs sounds a tad derivative and clichéd whereas others sound fresh and exciting, so there's a good balance between the familiar and innovative. There's Slayer-esque riffage in places (sometimes, a little too reminiscent of the thrash legends... look no further than parts of opener 'Flock of Flesh'), but this is mixed up with some quirky fretboard work, both rhythm and lead, that really is rather engaging. Some black metal idioms characterise some of the darker passages, with thrashed-up death infusions, too. Hart's growled vocals seem to be even more gutturally executed than previously; Dillon Trollope delivers thunderous crescendos and technical precision on drums; while bassist Damien Rainaud provides an aptly resonant pulse. It's all incisively executed and mediated through a polished production and fine mix. On the surface, it's great stuff. Musicianship and production-wise, I cannot fault the album at all.
However, for me, where 'Evolution' pales against its predecessor is a notable lack of the sublimely conceived sections that could be heard on 'The Life I Remember'. And where Hart used her clean voice to beautifully accentuate songs' divergences into more euphonic territory, these passages are now sparse. There's a distinct minimum of such throughout. There are some lighter sections, but the cleans on tracks such as 'Paragon', 'Drain' and 'Passenger' are lacking in comparison to those found on the previous album. 'Drain' does have some rather awesome guitar arpeggios on its outro, though; and there's more light and shade on 'Passenger' that's absent from many of the other songs. So yes, generally, 'Evolution' has far less contrasting sections. There are less of the exquisitely forged, menacing atmospheres, too; 'Evolution' is generally more about in-your-face heaviness. The bias has discernibly swayed more towards sonic vehemence, which is now the primary driving force of songs, as opposed to the vehement passages that were deployed in a far more contraposed way on 'The Life I Remember'. As such, I can't help but feel the music's missing something. There are some technical-edged tracks here, but these often sound forced and overthought, rather than naturally conceived.
On the plus side, compositions and arrangements have become a little more complex and ambitious, so 'Evolution' offers up a more challenging listen in some respects, rather than succumbing to a quick hit of tried-and-tested metal sonics. The tried-and-tested is also present, but tracks like 'Gravity' is a fine example of where Once Human have spread their songwriting wings with a greater ambition. There's indubitably progression and innovation to be heard on the album but, personally, it's not always how I expected or hoped Once Human would progress with their music. The innovative elements are occasionally great... but it's a shame they couldn't have fused these with the atmospherically charged foundations they established on their debut. Songs somehow feel a little two-dimensional in places, and lack emotional depth. When the compositions are well-paced between their shifting tempos and changing time signatures, this is where the album excels. These songs are few and far between, unfortunately.
While evolution and progression are evident on Once Human's sophomore full-length effort, so is an all-too large dose of regression. As such, 'Evolution' frustrates on occasion as it doesn't fully capitalise on the band's rampant, free-flowing creativity exercised on 'The Life I Remember'. It's a well above average work, but just not as fresh sounding as when Once Human burst onto the scene towards the end of 2015. It's always great to hear a band progress beyond their roots, but only when they evolve into compositionally better songwriters. I still revisit 'The Life I Remember' well over a year after its release; however, 'Evolution' doesn't excite me anywhere near as much.
Review by Mark Holmes
10th February 2017
1) Flock Of Flesh
2) Eye Of Chaos
3) Mass Murder Frenzy
5) Dark Matter
8) Killers For The Cure
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"While evolution and progression are evident on Once Human's sophomore full-length effort, so is an all-too large dose of regression."