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Sight of Emptiness Were Right to Follow their Instincts

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For better or worse, some genres just seem to have an expiration date. Despite a few exceptions, melodic death metal has been on the way “out” for a while now, and there’s a reason why you won’t see many new bands forming around the sound. At this point in the game, just about every interesting take on the genre has been explored and elaborated on thoroughly in the past. There’s only so many At the Gates riffs to steal, after all. The “modern metal” end of the melodeath spectrum in particular has become exhausted of creativity, and despite the efforts of many, is a style that has peaked years ago.

On the surface, Instincts — the new album from Costa Rica’s Sight of Emptiness —- comes across as yet another take on the formulas popularized by the likes of Scar Symmetry and Soilwork. The opening track “Essence” relies heavily on the straightforward harsh verse/clean chorus dynamic and offers very little in the way of original thought or expansion to the genre. As unfortunate as it was, it offered a prime example of why you should never judge a book by its cover or discard a band based on first impression.

As the album continues, Sight of Emptiness seem to open up and broaden their sonic palate, with surprises around every corner. The group had enough foresight to tap into their heritage and allowed Latin percussion to seep into tracks like “Instincts” and “Obsession,” which adds an exotic depth that is rarely seen in the genre. While not a new idea, keyboards and electronics are used for atmospheric padding and orchestral backing, augmenting the techier riffs and clean melodic sections with a subtle prog flair. The band’s self-proclaimed Opeth influence also makes itself well known on “Paradox,” which explores acoustic jazz with piano lead from Costa Rica’s Minister of Culture (?!), Manuel Obregón.

The biggest surprises are saved for the final two tracks. Following the beautiful instrumental “Sanctuary” in which the band briefly dips their toes into the realm of post-rock, the two-part finale “Departure” offers a wild amplification of the band’s various idiosyncrasies and throws all expectations out the window. The album closes with an electronic instrumental piece and an ostentatious industrial/dubstep hybrid — complete with wobble synths and vocoder — sandwiched around four minutes of silence. A wider curveball has never before been thrown in a single melodic death metal album.

Instincts is also bolstered by an array of high-profile guest spots. While it won’t help in distancing the band from Scar Symmetry comparisons, Christian Älvestam lends his voice to three separate tracks, “Fearless,” “Deception,” and “Hostility.” Extol’s Ole Halvard Sveen provides some clean singing as well during the contemplative “Instincts.” Elsewhere, outstanding solos are contributed by former Deicide guitarist Ralph Santolla and former Megadeth guitarist Glen Drover on “Obsession” and “Fearless,” respectively. Not to undermine Sight of Emptiness, but these guest spots offer some of the album’s best highlights.

Aside from a handful of cut and dry moments of by-the-numbers modern metal, Instincts offers some surprisingly cultured melodic death metal within its depths. Perhaps if utilized more heavily, the Latin, electronic, and progressive influences could allow Sight of Emptiness to transcend an otherwise narrow genre and turn heads across the spectrum.  In the mean time, the group have performed ably on Instincts and have managed to comfortably skirt predictability. There’s avant garde potential ripe for mining within these walls, and here’s hoping that it’s properly mined for album number four.

Stream the Sight of Emptiness track “Essence” featuring Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe) here.

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