Erra – Cure


Erra silenced the critics with their 2021 self-titled album at a time when people were ready to write off progressive metalcore as a tried genre. ‘Erra’s self-titled effort has the makings of a modern classic,’ declared Scream Blast Repeat. ‘The guitars are monstrous, the rage is infectious, the technical precision and execution as good as anything from the last decade. This is a band that oozes confidence and pushes their ability levels to breaking point.’ The prophecy of the critics is more poignant in 2024 despite the outlier efforts of Spiritbox and Northlane. Even Periphery showed signs of fatigue on their last record. Progressive metalcore is less relevant and more predictable today, and Erra will do little to reverse the stagnation with album number six. How have things turned so sour for this band in the space of three years?

Cure starts well enough. The opening title-track throbs like a swirling Devin Townsend riff and then finds its groove in a latent polyrhythm, where the guitar is out of sync with the drums. Erra waste no time flexing their muscles here in preparation for the dual chorus, and you might find your throat tensing up before the inevitable melodic uplift. The structure is easy to follow with only sixty percent attention to detail until the section after the second chorus rendition, where you expect a solo and they end on a breakdown riff.

But one thing becomes apparent after two songs. Jesse Cash didn’t bother to expand his chops on this record. As one of the finest guitarists of his generation, you expect nothing but bedazzlement, yet he prefers to keep things simple on Cure. Listen to ‘Rumor of Light’ as an example. The mosh pit will not share these concerns, but the listener at home has every right to ask the question about the lack of virtuosity. In this instance, a low-volume guitar solo rears its head, yet it receives no extravagant attention in the mix. You can admire the tuneful vocal harmonising in the chorus, but this song lacks the incredulous musicianship of Periphery to retain your interest. The same goes for ‘Slow Sour Bleed’, which wades into the modern clichés of metalcore with the obligatory neo-industrial intro of simulated guitars that give way to an eruption of aggressive riffing and then drop back down to a cautious tempo for the verse parts.

Unfortunately, Erra sound like a musical collective on autopilot with no reason to be agitated or aggrieved, which echoes the criticism they received from Finn McKenty of the Punk Rock MBA. Meshuggah with pop structures and metalcore posturing is one of the most sterile sounds in heavy music. ‘Glimpse’ confirms this with painful clarity. This is a band that enjoy their comfort zone and do not challenge themselves to explore beyond it. Yes, it’s impossible not to groove to the riffing in this song or be impressed by the rhythmic flow of the instruments, and there’s nothing objectionable in the ferocity or the energy of this music. But it lacks personality.

You can find some sublime moments if you try hard enough, but these are too scarce. ‘Blue Reverie’ gives us a song with a sense of place, and it contains no down-tuned riffing or growling for the first half until they switch to a labyrinthine Tool adventure at 02:32. This is the Erra that we know from the last album. By contrast, ‘Crawl Backwards Out of Heaven’ is much more enlivening because it dares to be claustrophobic and dissonant as chief screamer, J.T. Cavey, digs his way out of a grave with his bare hands. Only one thing can spoil this – a melodic chorus uplift, which they avoid like a sullied piece of underwear. You can feel the saliva building up at the back of your mouth. The dexterity of the guitar grooves is worth a deeper analysis. This should be an instant fan-favourite and a staple of their live set.

Perhaps, ‘Past Life Persona’ sums up this album best. You want it to be heavy and exciting and given to dynamic turns that keep you guessing, yet you lose interest when these things arrive. Or maybe ‘Pale Iris’ is the symptom of this record’s weaknesses. Double-timing drums and menacing growls rile you up, but you wonder at what point the predictable chorus will ruin it? The answer: after forty-two seconds. This would be even more of a problem if the drummer was not so engaged in the action with a stunning performance on the double-kick pedal. A moody middle-eight of ambient bass and guitar interplay almost saves it from mediocrity, but your good will can only extend so far after twelve songs.

There is a future for this genre. Unprocessed have their arms open and their fingers pointing beyond the gate for those keen to learn how to revitalise this style of music. Yet Erra show in closing track, ‘Wave’, that they can hear the winds of change. Listen to the intricacy of the razor-sharp guitar rhythms – we need more of these and less of the unimaginative dynamics and radio-rock choruses.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 05/04/2024

Record Label: UNFD

Standout tracks: Cure, Blue Reverie, Crawl Backwards Out of Heaven

Suggested Further Listening: Northlane – Node (2015), Invent Animate – Heavener (2023), Unprocessed – …And Everything in Between (2023)