It feels like a decade ago, but back in November of 2016 I reviewed my first record for Nine Circles, the debut full length from Pennsylvania’s progressive/technical metal outfit Burial in the Sky. In that time I’ve (hopefully) grown in my ability to convey a sense of what to expect with a given release, mirroring the sense of growth and experimentation the band seemingly underwent that resulted in sophomore effort Creatio Et Hominus. The album finds a new iteration of the band further stepping away from pure technical death metal to encompass more space and open passages, achieving in their best moments a sense of expansiveness and invention that continues to set them apart from their peers.
That growth doesn’t come without same pains. Shortly after releasing Persistence of Thought guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter James Tomedi completely revamped the band lineup, gaining drummer Sam Stewart (who also provides piano) and bassist/sax player Zach Strous, who provided the memorable sax lines on River of Nihil’s outstanding Where Owls Know My Name. After recording the majority of Creatio Et Hominus the band parted ways with original vocalist Jimmy Murphy, so Jorel Hart of New Jersey tech death band Cognitive stepped in to complete the record.
That’s a lot to take in when you’re shooting for your second record, and it’s a credit to Tomedi that the band used the opportunity to explore a more subtle and open shade of the progressive metal that’s been permeating the Pennsylvania scene. Using the differing perceptions of reality and life as a unifying theme for the music, there’s an immediate shift in dynamics from the earlier records, chords ringing out rather than being palm-muted, helping to ground the melody lines in a thick mix that at times pulses with an almost psychedelic feel.
“Nexus” opens the record with a serious statement of intent. Rather than a short, ineffectual segue it feels like a fully composed piece of music, with keyboards and saxophones weaving in and out laying down a gauntlet that says we shouldn’t be setting expectations. That launches into “Tesla” which is the only track to still feature Murphy on vocals, and it’s a brutal and fast jagged blast, initially flying by me as a relic of the previous album but around the third listen really opened up and exposed its underlying heart. Tomedi can still lay down some killer guitar leads and the rest of the band ably steps up to support him, particularly Stewart who does a great job building his drums around and inside the songs. “Nautilus’ Cage” is the highlight for me, echoing some of the anthemic moments that made “Anchors” from Persistence of Thought such a stand out. “The Pivotal Flame” and “Psalms of the Deviant” further tread into the more spacey, psych territory promised in the opening, utilizing moments of silence to build and release tension between different sections of the songs. By the time things wind down with the instrumental title track (featuring a solo from Rivers of Nihil’s Brody Uttley) Creatio Et Hominus makes good on its promise to move beyond the narrow confines the genre is typically known for.
Every time I find myself getting tired of the Unique Leader style progressive/technical death metal a band comes out to remind me there’s more going on if you look a little deeper. Pennsylvania seems to be a hotbed for bands moving off the beaten path and with Creatio Et Hominus Burial for the Sky show they’re up front leading the charge. Bow down to the sax and indulge in some good god damn metal, the way your grandfathers intended.