Artist: Rings of Saturn
Album: Lugal Ki En
Ah, Rings of Saturn—surrounded by controversy and a rabid, insatiable fanbase, these rising stars of technically dense and disastrous deathcore are the most polarizing act to hit heavy music since the likes of Emmure. On one hand, those who find solace and respite in the immense instrumentation of these Californian crushers are overzealous, obsessing over the band’s trademark technicality. On the other hand, there are those who simply don’t get it—finding nothing but tedious wankery and senseless chaos in the fray that Rings of Saturn unleash upon the listener. Fast forward through “scandals” and several pages of hostile Lambgoat comments to 2014: the band is on schedule to release their most anxiously awaited release to date, Lugal Ki En. Tried-and-true fans are waiting with baited breath, while those who haven’t cared before sincerely doubt they’ve any reason to care now. Fortunately for both parties, Lugal Ki En bridges the gap between the two mindsets, creating a happy medium between the what-the-hell-is-that guitar riffing and no-holds-barred over-the-top heaviness. Lugal Ki En is Rings of Saturn at their most honest and natural—doing what they do best in a manner that flows much more smoothly and hits much harder than their past releases, providing a well-rounded technical deathcore release that is enjoyable even for the band’s most outspoken enemies.
The instrumental soundscape to Lugal Ki En is one that is in constant flux. Practically the definition of energy, it is constantly shifting gears, never adhering to one sound or style for too long. Percussionist Aaron Stechauner—who has unspeakable talent and remarkable endurance, to say the least, drives every second of practically every track home. Take, for example, the frantic fills that kick off “Senseless Massacre,” or the blistering blast beats that follow. Every track is home to a skin-shredding display of break-neck speed and mind-melting technicality that inspires drummers across the globe to get busy blasting or get busy dying. However, where Stechauner is a brilliant source of energy, he lacks variety—a variety readily provided by guitarists Lucas Mann and Joel Omans. Without a doubt, Mann and Omans are the stars of Rings of Saturn’s show. From the very first shred session of “Senseless Massacre,” through the closing portions of “The Heavens Have Fallen,” Mann and Omans cover everything from decimating, crushing chugs to jazz-influenced neo-classical acoustic work(a la “Fractal Intake”)—giving the band’s brand-name technicality a much needed makeover without sacrificing intensity or musicianship. Rather, by drawing from a broader diversity of their influences, Mann and Omans create a much more organic sound for Rings of Saturn that appeals to a greater range of heavy music loving listeners. “Desolate Paradise” and “Eviscerate” are throwbacks to the band’s Dingir-like material, with much-improved song structure and flow—where “Infused” is simply the most straightforward and aggressive track the quartet has released to date, ditching relentless technicality in favor of chaos-inducing breakdowns and absurdly speedy drums. In fact, the only downfall to the instrumental antics of Rings of Saturn is found in the tracks where they adhere to walls of incongruous, too-dense riffing and shredding, omitting any of their newfound penchant for groove-tinted musicianship. “Godless Times,” as well as “Unsympathetic Intellect” are both guilty of this—providing two tracks that seem to slander the band’s attempt at progression and naturalism.
Where the band’s instrumental variety (and occasional lack thereof) is hit-or-miss, Lugal Ki En’s vocal diversity is absolutely perfect. Vocalist Ian Bearer is nothing short of immaculate, hitting every tone and pitch with marked precision, ranging from unintelligible, unimaginable lows to screeching, sky-scraping highs in the blink of an eye. Again, the listener turns to “Infused” for evidence of this. Bearer is capable of complimenting the immense array of riffs and chugs that Mann and Omans batter the listener with—matching the lowest lows with guttural growls, and contrasting them with bitter shrieks. Bearer even matches up with Stechauner’s speedy percussion, letting loose with blazing fast belted yells that flow beautifully overtop of the rampaging percussion. It’s difficult to further analyze the awe-inspiring work of Bearer’s vocal prowess because, to be honest, it is a perfect blend of diversity and consistency. No matter which track the listener finds him on, no matter which tone or style he employs, he does it to perfection, never half-assing a single syllable in his attempt to provide another aspect to the band’s dizzying dynamic.
Dynamic—that’s what Lugal Ki En boasts so proudly that other Rings of Saturn releases have lacked. Rather than just layers of skilled musicianship haphazardly tossed atop one another, Lugal Ki En truly feels like a comprehensive, focused effort from Rings of Saturn. The bold and brash heaviness of “Infused,” as well as Bearer’s vocal brilliance gives listener’s who aren’t a fan of the silly-at-times technicality something to focus on, while tracks like “Godless Times” serve as a palpable throw-back to Rings’ older material—and older fans. There is a diversity and livelihood to Lugal Ki En that was only hinted at in Dingir and absent entirely in the band’s debut album—a livelihood that makes the album feel natural and full, lush with variety and skill, packed with ups and downs where there was previously monotony. That said—the downs are still present, lurking in the portions of seemingly random “because we can” shredding and pointlessly technical percussion that simply lacks punch. However, for all these missteps, the bigger picture still stands tall, as Lugal Ki En finally sees Rings of Saturn cashing in the checks of promise and potential that their previous albums wrote.
For Fans Of: Sentenced to Dissection, Acrania, Thy Art is Murder, Infant Annihilator, Decapitated, Alien Metal.
By: Connor Welsh