The human condition is such that, in 2017, we have to do things we don’t necessarily like in order to survive. For some this just means boring chores or a dull 9-to-5 day job (more or less a first world problem). For others this means they have to live Day to day fighting for places to sleep, things to eat and water to drink. They have to commit crimes and acts that many would cringe at just to get by.
Of course, it doesn’t just end there.
During the day, you have to cheat and steal to get by—but at night, when the hustle and bustle of the daily grind wears down, your conscience pipes up. Depression sets in. You become haunted by your own actions, to a point where a cure is needed—something like Nepenthe, an Ancient Greek drug of forgetfulness; an anti-depressant that works by obliterating the memories that oppress your conscience. Needless to say, the aptly named 2017 full-length release, Nepenthe, fits Californian crushers Bermuda better than most bands. With a past plagued by delayed album releases, sketchy labels and other circumstances that would ring a death knell for most other artists, Bermuda have persevered. Now, upon the dawning of their third full-length release, the band strike with a cohesive sound that dabbles in groovy, punchy precision and dissonant, sense aggression both—seeing the group return to a form stronger than we’ve seen in years.
Imagine a possessed sonic offspring from the mating between Ion Dissonance and Volumes circa the late 2000s—now add gritty and grisly production that’s just polished enough to give the leads sharpness and the bass a groovy, smooth plunk. If you can do that, you’re well on your way to getting a good picture of Bermuda’s Nepenthe. Percussionist Kevin Daniels is ruthless—the very spitting image of a contemporay progressive metalcore drummer. Taking hints of fleet-footed math metal and weaving it in with stuttering breakdowns and raunchy grooves, Daniels gives Bermuda a strong and sinister core to build their dynamic around. “Sterili Matri” sees Daniels launching forward at full-bore, while the somewhat more restrained and safer songs like “Survivor’s Guilt” see him performing a more integral role, working diligently with the low-down-and-dirty talents of bassist JT Tickner. Tickner’s bass performs double duty—with some segments, like those throughout “Gnashing Teeth” and “Survivor’s Guilt” seeing him working with Daniels to craft a lurid and groovy low end, while “Rex Mendaces” and the ten-ton track “Sterili Matri” see Tickner working with guitarist Noah Sias to provide a beefy and thick foundation for Sias’ absurd leads, gut wrenching grooves and brutalizing breakdowns. Sias is Bermuda’s biggest saving grace—the fountain from which diversity spouts. Even the eerie interlude, “Oblivious Oblivion” sees his guitar echoing into pure darkness, raising hairs on the listener’s neck—as opposed to breaking their cervical spine cleanly in twain with more devastating numbers like “Sterili Matri” or the album’s ultra-groovy titular track. Sias’s work is nothing short of awesome—channeling the “where the hell did that come from?!” Panic chords of Ion Dissonance or yesteryear’s Despised Icon and blending them with creative and painstakingly written grooves. While Use Your Burdens was a lackluster and ultimately overcautious display of Sias’—and all of Bermuda’s—talent, Nepenthe is no such thing.
Where Bermuda are—and have been—all over the place musically, their vocals have always served as a figurative anchor for the spastic and groovy nature of the instrumentation that supports them. This trend continues, but not without a couple spry twists and turns. Frontman Corey Bennett reigns supreme with a thick and low-to-mid range roar that serves as the basis for a solid 80% of the vocal work on Nepenthe; it shines during the opening tracks like “Survivor’s Guilt” and continues throughout crushing songs like “Sterili Matri.” However, as Nepenthe continues on, Bennett gets a little more adventurous with his range, which helps stave off monotony and pleasantly surprise the listener. Starting with “Nepenthe,” the occasionally cleanly sung segment pops up, and while the listener’s gut reaction might be to cringe, they should do anything but. The addition of clean vocals, while not entirely new to Bermuda’s dynamic, feels new here, excellently executed to add melody alongside the band’s murderous aggression. Furthermore, shrill high screams during “Rex Mendaces,” and eerie, echoed bellows on “He Came Walking” add even more diversity, giving Bermuda a sharper hook to stab into the listener’s brain.
Nepenthe might seem a bit anti-climactic at first—honestly, after my first listen through the album’s contents, I was dismayed. Where some songs—like “The Adversary” and “Survivor’s Guilt”—seem like they fit better within the “play it safe” mentality of Use Your Burdens, they are not without their own appeal—especially the sinister lyricism from Bennett on “Survivor’s Guilt.” Meanwhile, the outrageously catchy and almost dizzying opening to “Rex Mendaces,” or the cruel climax to “Sterili Matri” remind the listener why and how they’ve earned the reputation they both have and deserve. Even the closing number, “Aelle,” sees Bermuda pushing their own limits, writing a ballad without some brass balls of its own to bludgeon the listener with. While the listener might feel shorted by the content on Nepenthe at first, give it a second and third dose—I promise by then it will be a release it’ll take Ancient Grecian potion to forget.
For Fans Of: Ion Dissonance, Prime Meridian, Volumes, Structures, InVoker
By: Connor Welsh