Job for a Cowboy – Moon Healer


Job for a Cowboy will always be known for their 2005 Doom EP. Think of the love and hate people had for the MySpace “scene” bands in the post-nu metal era. Other than Bring Me the Horizon and Suicide Silence, it’s hard to think of an artist more synonymous with the development of modern deathcore as we know it. And yet, their debut EP is the only record where you could associate them with the genre. Ever since, their focus has centred on being a “proper” death metal group. It didn’t prevent them from cracking the Billboard Top 100 on any of their four albums released between 2008 and 2014, but their ten-year hiatus has done much to make people forget about them. Only with the rise of Lorna Shore, do you hear their name re-appear again as a forefather of a sub-genre that experienced a resurgence over the last two years.

But let’s be clear: Job for a Cowboy are not deathcore – they’re a progressive death metal band. They demand to be taken seriously, and this informs everything they do. Their last effort in 2014 (see Sun Eater) did much to enhance their reputation among sceptical tastemakers. Metal Blade Records continue to support them. Yet you wonder if an injection of deathcore’s most absurd moments of theatrical brutality would make Moon Healer a better listening experience. ‘Beyond the Chemical Doorway’ starts with enough mysticism to grab your attention. Here, guitar patterns emerge like faint torchlight through fog in the intro before the guitars leap into a groove and the bass finds a different pathway. Seldom do the axes seek melody among their intricate arpeggio-led riffs. This is what Death would have sounded like in 1993 with blast beats and a crash course in Voivod’s unorthodox chord choices. Tempos bump and ride and follow the caprices of the guitar rhythms, yet there is a clear sense of cogency in this music. But it’s so impenetrable.

Gut-rotting vocals replace the gory voice projections synonymous with death metal for most of this album. Fallujah’s unique prog metal approach appears in ‘Etched in Oblivion’, but there’s nothing dream-like in the outcome. The most interesting aspect is the expressive bass guitar that flows through the mix like an independent electric current. ‘Grinding Wheels of Ophanim’ is more of a chore than it should be. Job for a Cowboy should banish any remaining prejudices from the death metal tastemakers after this record, but that diminishes its charms. It’s surprising how little breathing space you encounter in this album despite its prog foundations. The neo-classical guitar element is the reprieve your brain craves.

One gets the impression that this music is not meant to be as claustrophobic as it sounds – why would you have a shredding bass guitar at the foundations if this is the case? ‘Into the Crystalline Crypts’ thrives on a rich embroidery of guitar work, like The Zenith Passage, and it envisages a wider colour palette. Yet it stays within the grey and dark brown when you want turquoise. This album has little repeat listening value once you look past the stupendous musicianship.

You must ask the awkward question when you reach ‘A Sorrow-Filled Moon’. Is this music directionless? There’s little excitement here because it lacks surprises and takes no risks. ‘The Sun Gave Me Ashes so I Sought Out the Moon’ is far better. Here, they rip through the best riff on the album, thanks to the genius of Navene Koperweis to bring it to life on the drum stool. But you’ll soon become lost in the maze, even if some of the navigations could grace Death’s Symbolic LP. Sometimes, the vocals squirm in a contrived ferocity that any death metal band could produce on autopilot, yet on other occasions they resonate with a desperate agony. You’ll find your attention gravitating towards the intricate bass guitar rhythms that weave in and out of the jarring guitars like a skilled engineer.

Ten years in the making, this record starts with promise but soon slides into a malaise of lifeless technical posturing. Closing track, ‘The Forever Rot’, is one of the few moments where a chunky rhythm demands you to shadow it with an air guitar. Its unorthodox outro of mellotron-like guitars, spindly bass shapes, and tom drum rotations is the most enjoyable part of the album – make of that what you will. This is an LP that has many of the ingredients to succeed, yet it never escapes the monotony that progressive metal bands should find easy to avoid.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 23/02/2024

Record Label: Metal Blade

Standout tracks: Beyond the Chemical Doorway; The Sun Gave Me Ashes so I Sought Out the Moon

Suggested Further Listening: Death – Individual Thought Patterns (1993), Kohnerah – Ominous Ubiquitous (2022), Cynic – Uroboric Forms – The Complete Demo Recordings (2023)