Nice. Here we have a re-recorded and expanded take on the band's self-released full-length, "Mute", which was a quite impressive affair that suffered only from some recording problems and a handful of meandering songwriting tactics that I overlooked since the strengths were so bright. The cool thing about this new edition is that a lot of work has been done, and it's immediately apparent all around, so it's not like they cleaned up a few things and slapped the disc into a new package after they found a label to work with at all, they literally recreated the entire album and have actually revised some of the songwriting and everything. Also impressive is that this outing was once more recorded solely by the band at their own studio, so the improvements are all their own. And I have to say, when considering limited means and D.I.Y. ethics, this is probably about as good as a progressive death metal band could ever hope to sound on their own dime in a home studio, which is no small feat! The drums (Yep, almost no more drum machines!) are generally crisp and clear without sounding overly rigid or unnatural to me at all, the guitars are amply crunchy and build up the core of the mix, the bass is thick and adds density to the lower levels without achieving too much prominence, and the snarling vocals are clear and well enunciated without overpowering the instrumentation. The singing vocals have also improved greatly, so they sound much more comfortable and effective herein. There's still some room for improvement on that front, but I can absolutely appreciate the growth that's already taken place there, so they're in a good position as it stands. I think I might like to hear the bass given a hint more separation from the guitars - both to give the basslines more emphasis and to potentially help fill some of the loose gaps between the drums and guitars - but other than that minor suggestion I commend their efforts in full. "Die, Lavinia" is first up this time around with some less than intriguing staccato riffs, but when those twisted Opeth-esque dissonant runs creep in things definitely take a turn for the better. "Let Us Go" kicks off with faster blasts of death metal tremolo picking and such that still carry that discordant undercurrent, and there are definitely some fucked up picking patterns and chord phrasings that I really dig here, while some of the melodic tendencies expressed later on are still massively promising. "Tamora" is the first track that really ventures into some of the more laidback territory, still throwing in some interesting chord phrasings to keep the tremolo picking runs and such on the interesting side; but then "Remnant" is a "new" track (or at least one that didn't appear on "Mute") that opens with clean guitars and a deeper style of singing that borders on spoken narration, but for whatever reason once the distortion kicks in for the churning death metal riffs it becomes apparent that the drums are programmed, which is a shame, because the kick drums sound way too in your face despite the fact that the rest of the track is quite consistent with the surrounding material in terms of overall sound. This is a solid melodic death metal tune, however, and the moody lead lines and chunky picking patterns towards the end of the track are pretty damn nice. "New Year's Day" opens with beautiful acoustic guitars and soft singing textures for a vastly improved take on the original version of the track that's far more focused and consistent. Some of the vocals still push it for me in terms of sounding somewhat forced or unconvincing, but the quick fits of snarling work great over the gently played acoustic guitars, and the lead run with faux keyboard guitar effects later in the piece is also excellently orchestrated against the acoustic guitars after the one heavy stretch subsides. The melodic blackened death metal attack of "Lamentation" remains one of the strongest tracks for sure (I'd actually love to hear a little more of that style throughout), with its intense tremolo picking runs and fierce vocal performance that both harness far more feeling than most bands who explore such realms. The title track follows, another "new" one, and is another of the stronger compositions in terms of creatively melodic riffing that works in plenty of dissonance and tempo changes, not to mention contrasts in dynamics with a few quick clean passages and a couple of fucked up (in a good way) doses of churning pinch harmonic riffs and stuff. They close with an awesome cover of Hypocrisy's "Apocalypse" that actually fits in quite well with their own material, granted some of the vocals venture into more of a low-end growl here, so it's a damn fine take. The design looks fairly nice and this time includes all of the lyrics in a clean, legible format, but I have to say that I actually liked the cover art on the old release way better. This new artwork looks too much like something that would be used as a high-end video game background texture or something, thus lacking the more suggestive and artistic qualities that the band's prior releases bear. Lyrically I'm actually quite digging a lot of this stuff, though: "Let us be forgotten, though our bodies stain your lands. We may wear your children's faces, but death is all we are - not love, not life, only the death we died." Certainly a damn good record, and one that continues to have me yearning to hear Black Harvest continue to grow and flourish as time passes. It's still a rather long disc since the tracks average around six minutes each, and I probably would've omitted "Remnant" simply due to its inconsistencies with the drum programming versus the live percussion, but beyond that the band should be very proud of the improvements they've made. This CD should absolutely turn some heads with its quality approach and delivery, but what I'm really waiting for is what's gonna come next, because I could seriously see this band blowing me totally out of the water if they play their cards right. Check 'em out...
Running time - 49:34, Tracks: 8
[Notable tracks: Let Us Go, Lamentation, White Light Came Down]
Oak Knoll Productions - http://www.oak-knoll.com