Erra – Erra


Alabama quintet, Erra, are architects of the progressive metalcore sound sometimes referred to as ‘Sumeriancore’ due to the cluster of bands centred around Periphery and Veil of Maya on Sumerian Records at the beginning of the 2010s. Along with Born of Osiris and After the Burial, Erra take the aggression of metalcore and fuse it with Meshuggah and Tool to create a sophisticated and challenging sound that’s as technical as it is heavy. Now on their fifth album and their first for UNFD after leaving Sumerian, Jesse Cash and the boys are a reminder to new labelmates, Architects, how to combine brutal down-tuned riffs and dazzling guitar work with melodic choruses and subtle polyrhythms. Be under no illusions: this is a fine piece of work.

Erra are proud of the golden age of metalcore from 2001-2005 and care nothing for the prejudices of those that wrote off the genre during the MySpace scene days. Back then it was heavy and dynamic. The chugging syncopated riffs and flurry of sixteenth notes sounded new when executed with the precision of technical metal rather than the raw aggression of hardcore. Fast forward to 2021 and you’ll struggle to find a seat at the table unless you’re playing an eight-string guitar and juxtaposing vessel-bursting screams with clean tenor vocals. Left in the wrong hands, it can sound sterile and reductive, but Erra are here to disabuse you of that notion.

Opener, ‘Snowblood’, is an absolute crusher of drop-tuned rhythms and militaristic breakdown riffs with a remarkable key-change from manic aggression to expressive melody in the blink of a chorus. Holy fuck, this is hostile yet technical and pulverises with the awesome endurance of a T1000 cyborg hunting down a young John Connor in LA. Those open-string djent bombs at the end are brutal!

Before you know it ‘Gungrave’ and ‘Divisionary’ are nailing you to the chair and giving you the hairdryer treatment. The former subsists on machine-gun riffing and a glorious octave jump in the chorus, while the latter is a djent version of A Perfect Circle with insightful lyrics about how “small black screens are your only god now.” Dig out the lyrics if you want something that captures the anxiety about our fear of the coming enslavement to technology. The music to back it up is just as powerful and disruptive.

You have every right to expect a masterclass in guitar brilliance from Jesse Cash, and he does not disappoint on ‘House of Glass’. It’s mind-boggling how this band play riffs that would normally filter through the arpeggiator button of a synthesiser. Like ‘Scorpion Hymn’, this one is a Meshuggah blaster of astronomical proportions, full of crunchy palm-mutes and apoplectic gutturals from the excellent J.T. Cavey. ‘Electric Twilight’ is like King’s X covering Gojira with the type of guitar melody you only write once in a decade if you’re lucky. You soon notice how Erra don’t just rely on the low-end chug of the bottom guitar strings to smash their way out of the sound booth. Think of the Devin Townsend Project’s spiritual metal assault on Transcendence and imagine Veil of Maya as the backing band. This is where Erra find themselves on this record, always indulging their love of a bruising breakdown riff with the vertiginous sequences of Tool and the genre-pushing ambition of The Ocean. The energy levels are infectious, the righteous rage anthemic. They even end the record with a late afternoon ballad to rival Periphery’s ‘Lune’.

Only one thing will plant a seed of doubt in your mind on this LP. Like Architects, the band relies too much on aggressive verses in combination with the illuminous clean vocals that mire metalcore in such an insipid state of mainstream irrelevance to fans of the edgier side of metal. Jesse Cash is on good form here and hits some impressive tenor notes, but the impact starts to wane when you know it’s coming on every song. Sometimes, the band are conscious they might be going too soft and put extra effort into compensating for this with an extra dose of berserk extreme metal foraging to keep the underground tastemakers happy. While this is not a bad approach, it feels forced and ends up becoming as predictable as the choruses that created the problem in the first place.

Nevertheless, Erra’s self-titled effort has the makings of a modern classic. 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. At times breath-taking and never short of new ideas, Erra is a triumph of progressive metal’s ability to reinvigorate.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 19/03/2021

Record Label: UNFD

Standout tracks: Gungrave, House of Glass, Electric Twilight

Suggested Further Listening: Veil of Maya – False idol (2017), Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence (2016), Arcaeon – Cascadence (2021)