The landscape of the metal underground is littered with stillborn projects; bands who showed promise on a single album or on a few demos and EPs but who ended up splitting before that promise could be fulfilled, often due to reasons outside their control. Such is the way of the world of course; much as fans (like me) may sometimes be loath to acknowledge it, not every band we like can go on to sell out stadiums, and the artists we admire have lives and commitments outside of their music. Speaking for myself though, the loss representing the greatest waste of potential in recent memory was the premature disbandment of the Texas prog/power metal outfit Outworld. Led by the absurdly talented shred guitar virtuoso Rusty Cooley, the band’s 2006 self-titled debut was and remains one of my favourite metal albums period, an exhilarating and dramatic trip which eschewed the cheese normally associated with the power metal label in favour of a brutal and epic slab of post-apocalyptic angst. It was razor-sharp, diamond-hard, vice-tight and pitch black.
You can imagine my disappointment then, when in 2009 the band issued an unceremonious statement that they were splitting – after providing samples from the recordings of their new record, no less. But however crushed I was at the time, I was equally elated last year when I stumbled blindly across Eumeria, formed by former Outworld keyboardist Bobby Williamson together with ex-bassist Shawn Kascak, with newcomers Jonny Tatum on vocals, Reece Fullwood on guitars and Kevin Bartlett on drums. Better still, the reunion of these two former bandmates was no mere happenstance – listening to the title track of their self-released debut Rebel Mind made it clear that, while Eumeria had an identity in their own right, they also drew upon the songwriting ideas and existential, post-industrial aesthetic of their forebears. The guitar used by Fullwood in the video for Rebel Mind even featured the same design on the fretboard as that used by Cooley in the video for War Cry! Perhaps it was more of a reincarnation than a direct continuation, but this was enough to send my fanboy reflexes into euphoric spasms.
Well, I finally got round to hearing Rebel Mind in its entirety, and without beating around the bush, it managed to exceed even my fairly extravagant expectations. The spirit of the band I fell in love with years ago is present and accounted for here, but Eumeria bring enough in the way of surprises and new blood to the table that it doesn’t just feel like Outworld ver. 2.0. Mixed and mastered by prolific Danish producer Jacob Hansen, the album’s sound is extremely crisp and clear, the guitars crunchy and the drums punchy. Fullwood’s riffs are of the sleek, staccato variety that characterises much of contemporary metal like Scar Symmetry or Nevermore, often in the odd time signatures typical of post-Dream Theater prog metal. Old-school heavy metal purists might turn their noses up at that description, but the riffs present enough variation, subtlety and complexity to avoid any accusations of “-core” influence, and are compulsively headbang-able. Meanwhile, Williamson’s crystalline key lines – omnipresent but never obtrusive – give the record enough harmonic “fullness” that it never feels at all sterile, but rather powerful and aerodynamic, like a hi-tech machine designed with as much of an eye to aesthetic perfection as efficient functionality.
The songs are the real stars here though. Outworld positioned themselves as a soot-blackened bastard child of hook-laden classic US power metal like Fates Warning and Crimson Glory and the precise, technical heaviness of Awake-era Dream Theater and Symphony X; they wrote songs whose exclusive function was to kick your ass into orbit. Eumeria, by contrast, aim for something a little more subdued and nuanced, allowing moments of fragility and intimacy to slip through the cracks of their bludgeoning metal carapace. Tracks like Legion and Father lay off the riff assault for long enough to allow Williamson’s tremulous keys and Jonny Tatum’s haunted, mid-range wails to prominence, a startling evocation of a cry for help in a desolate emotional wasteland. The spacey two-minute interlude Red Light Flies demonstrates this dynamism well, disarmingly calm and mellow.
Make no mistake though; there is rage here, more than enough fury to sate any melodic metal fan fed up with the sunflowers and rainbows that populate so much of Euro-power metal. This is one of the most intense and anguished-sounding records ever to bear the moniker of power metal. Bartlett’s kick drums and fills are positively volcanic, Fullwood’s solos are lithe and athletic, and Tatum can belt out a banshee shriek with the best of them (the howls he lets rip at the climax of the title track need to be heard to be believed). What’s most extraordinary though, and what really sets Eumeria apart from the competition, is the ability to reconcile the gap between fragility and fury as though it wasn’t even there, seguing from the one to the other almost from one bar to the next, making them practically indistinguishable. Nowhere is this better exhibited than the fifth track, Tides, which starts in the vein of one of Shadow Gallery’s more low-key numbers until the two minute mark, when a blistering riff is slipped in under the continuing vocal melody. It’s a dramatic shift without being obvious or jarring and it reflects the extent to which Eumeria know exactly what they’re doing.
Rebel Mind demonstrates considerable concision by progressive standards – the longest track is a comparatively modest seven-and-a-half minutes, and the whole thing clocks in at about forty-five minutes total – but in spite of that it feels incredibly fully realised. Eumeria have created a beast of an album here, one packed wall to wall with memorable songwriting and performances. I still likeOutworld more overall, if only because it achieves a greater level of potency and exhilaration than even Rebel Mind does, but that’s not much of a criticism. Being marginally less badass than Outworld’s debut is a little like being marginally less beautiful than Aphrodite herself. If anything, Rebel Mind makes a fitting counterpoint to that 2006 behemoth, and listening to them back-to-back makes for fascinating comparisons and contrasts. In any case, where once Outworld dominated near enough everyone else in their genre, now Eumeria do instead. The king is dead: long live the king.
03 Rebel Mind
06 The Key
07 Red Light Flies
08 Dreaming of Death
09 Secret Placed