The year is drawing to a close. Winter is laying its hand down, bringing the cold and the end of colors. You’re feeling the lingering physical blech from a flu shot, and all you want is your warmest slippers, a steaming cup of coffee and some familiar music to while away the rest of the day. But then you see this cover and are immediately drawn to the juxtaposition of an album called Biophobia where the cover teems with color and life. The loose definition of “biophobia” is a fear of nature, and if there is anything more terrifying in nature than a literal storm of bears, I can’t imagine it (although I’m sure someone at SyFy is…Copyright!). So kudos to the band Bearstorm for really bringing it in the name department, as well as delivering a strong mix of variety to their brand of progressive black/death metal.
Shambling out of the woods of the Richmond, VA area, Bearstorm label themselves “Blackened Southern Deathprog” and I’ll take it. Mixed in with the more traditional elements you’d find in a blackened death sound are shades of southern rock and boogie, blues licks and americana that are wrapped in a deceptive progressive style. The technicality on display doesn’t overwhelm you: rather, it serves to tie all these seemingly disparate styles together. Debut album Americanus showed that this amalgam of ideas didn’t have to necessarily equate to another Opeth clone — on tracks like the sprawling “Riparian Forest” and “De Soto” the guitars carry the melody over precise drums but refuse to sound sterile, letting everything congeal in a warm, organic compost of sound.
And with “compost” we’re back to decay, to that album cover on the new EP, some type of life growing out of the remains of the deceased. After a brief intro of natural sounds, the EP gallops off with the title track, a groovy Mastodon vibe that slithers on the ground, picking up speed until the solo hits. The sound is noticeably thicker on Biophobia than Americanus, thanks to an extremely fat tone on Jay Lindsey’s bass as well as the new addition of second guitarist Greg Bates, who contributes in the songwriting department to the bleak and beautiful “Agaric Catechism,” an instrumental that drops the progressive blackened death tags and settles in for a mournful, bluesy dirge. That darkened mood spills into closing track “Cryptobiotic Filth Destroyer” featuring great interplay between Bates and Kelsey Miller before chugging into a slow, low verse accentuated by vocalist Michael Edward’s buried howls. The song crashes at the midway point of Sabbath and High on Fire, large and lumbering in force as each groove locks and shifts in and out of place. There’s an interlude about halfway through that shoots for more progressive airs, angular solos clipping around corners of the riffs until everything crashes back to the finale.
Bearstorm’s Biophobia is a great late 2016 surprise, a tight and compact EP that knows exactly how to incorporate a mix of styles and make it their own without sacrificing the song. Of the many disappointments in a metal lover’s life is finding a killer album cover and finding out the music doesn’t begin to live up to the image. Bearstorm not only live up to the image but manage to surprise with a great take on American metal that elevates the meaning of “progressive” in the genre.