Album Review: Rosetta’s Quintessential Ephemera


Ever wondered what Explosions in the Sky might sound like if their firmament ever lit up with any actual explosions?  Or what would happen if someone pumped Edward Shearmur’s excellent K-PAX soundtrack with 1,000 psi of existential rage?  Or what City of Ships might have accomplished if… scratch that, I don’t really know what those guys have been up to for the past couple records, but I’m imagining Look What God Did to Us with sections both prettier and more rabid.  The reference is hardly surprising, of course, since Rosetta called on that band’s Eric Jernigan for guitar and vocals on Quintessential Ephemera.  If you’ve never heard Rosetta before, try to wrap your head around all the above meager attempts at comparison.  To make the description a bit more direct, let’s say the Philly, PA band have tapped into that mind-heightening combo of overwhelming volume and clean, fluttering half-melodies that other bands sheltering under the post-metal umbrella have been using to great effect for more than a decade.

Now that I’ve invoked the great evil, Post, I feel compelled to turn back the waves of nauseous disdain and reductive bullshit that so often accompanies this music.  Detractors immediately cry “Neur-Isis!” as if that brutish simplification was either truthful or slyly humorous.  Attentive ears already know that Neurosis don’t write music so much as harness weather patterns and magnetic fields and other supreme natural forces to expose the true frailty of human life on this planet.  Those West Coast mountain-renders would never have written any of Isis’ albums, which always succumbed to human (mosquito) control with their undercurrents of nervous energy and occasionally directionless builds.  And Isis, in turn, would never have surrendered that twitchy tension long enough to engage in the unselfconscious beauty that Rosetta approach throughout Quintessential Ephemera.  (The above paragraph is dedicated to Decibel Magazine’s James Lewis, whose smug shruggitude at MDF this year merits some backlash, especially in a forum where he’ll likely never read it.)

Of course, if you have heard Rosetta before, then conveying their 2015 sound becomes much easier:  Quintessential Ephemera sounds just the way you think Rosetta is going to sound five-ish years on from A Determinism of Morality.  Mike Armine’s diaphragm-ravaging vocals still dominate the microphone, but the vocal melodies introduced on Morality have certainly gained ground here, as they arise early and return often courtesy of Jernigan, bassist Dave Grossman and occasionally multi-instrumentalist Matt Weed and drummer BJ McMurtrie.  The gravity-slung shift in tempo and structure that the band promised around Morality’s release never really surfaced, and the elements that prompted the band to self-describe as “metal for astronauts” remain as potent now as they were on debut experiment Galilean Satellites.  Creative rhythmic patterns continue to exemplify Rosetta’s allure; McMurtrie often draws listeners’ attention to his own mesmerizing performance.

In a way, Rosetta still sounds like the live incarnation I saw in a tiny Baltimore club alongside Dysrhythmia and Tombs around the release of Wake/Lift:  a stage-bound band whipping up a maelstrom of thunderous chords and colorful counterpoint while Mike Armine stood on the floor among fans and roared his intensity into our nodding, encouraging faces.  Quintessential Ephemera is a clear extension of the work Rosetta have always been climbing toward.  As much as it offers an exciting new document for longtime fans, Ephemera may also provide an attractive entry point for newcomers to the band’s music.  Looking for badass motherfuckery?  Look elsewhere.  Looking for new choices in contemplative fury?  Look no further.

Rosetta’s Quintessential Ephemera comes out June 22. You can stream the track “(Untitled III)” here. European CDs and 2xLPs can be preordered from Golden Antenna, and the US CD is available from Init Records while the 2xLP is at War Crime

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