Alarum: Natural Causes

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Alarum: Natural Causes
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Alarum: Natural Causes
Fusion, Progressive Metal, Thrash Metal
Willowtip Records
October 18th, 2011
Release length: 41:10
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Melbourne, Australia based Alarum has existed since 1992, but chances are good you have yet to hear about this group. They have issued a number of demos throughout the years, up to this point have only issued two albums. Their debut full-length Fluid Motion dropped back in 1999, and was eventually picked up by Willowtip Records for their 2004 follow-up Eventuality (a suiting title). It’s been several years since then, and the group didn’t issue anything else between those years. Finally, the group came together to issue their third album, Natural Causes, for a 2011 release. But, does this large gap between albums signal a release that has been handcrafted with care all these years, or does Natural Causes end up being a rushed album that’s far from impressive by any Fusion or Progressive Metal standards?

One may assume that such a long time away from the studio would have hurt Alarum like it does many bands, but Natural Causes does make for a strong release. first of all the audio quality is rich and clear, something a band like this actually needs to work in order to establish a proper atmosphere for their music. There are a good deal of Fusion moments to be found through the album, though this time it feels more like it was restrained then glorified, but it makes for a stronger release since much of those moments feel more natural to the songs. The often technical or even atmospheric guitar work is captured superbly and loudly with a booming bass guitar contribution that stands out well in the mix and is hard to deny, really making for a fast pace, or largely environmentally rich slower experience, to back up the rhaspier vocals that chime through with great range and enthusiasm. The drumming keeps up well to whatever pace is being handled by the guitars, though sometimes drowned out by everyone else in the group. The cymbols don’t quite ring through as loudly as you might want, but the bass kicks with their strong click and equally as loud and tight snares manage to keep the tracks full while maintaining both the speed and beat of the song well.

One of the surprising factors of Natural Causes is the group’s shorter track lengths. Alarum doesn’t go off on seven to ten minute experimental Fusion-based bridges that come out of nowhere like many other bands would have, or try to jam an out of place interlude just to expand the time. For the most part, the music here just hits the listener hard with some tight and technical Progressive Metal material that has no problem showing a melodic side when necessary, only throwing in some additional twists to the music when necessary. This really causes the band to stand out on their own and give them both a bit of a mainstream feel a la Shadows Fall, but far from a commercially geared act due to the intensity that the group does bring with them. “Natural Causes” showcases this well, and even proves how a very short and appropriate introduction to a song can set up an entire album nicely. The faster paced Thrash music is matched with harmonized rhasps that work perfectly against the aggressive music while harmonies ring through in various shifts of the music through Progressive turns and changes to pace that feel natural despite how sudden the shift may be. The song’s short three minute and twenty two second time span really shows a tight nit performance from Alarum, as well as that the band is not going to shove riffs that just showcase their talents but kill the natural flow of the song, and are all about writing solid music and experiences, a concept you can feel safe about throughout the recording. But this isn’t even where the band shines their greatest since the album continues to show slight changes to their strong Thrash performances and mold specific atmospheres around them, such as with “Shifting skies Like Nothing,” easily one of the best tracks off the recording that brings in a great deal of atmosphere through a natural shift into softer Progressive material that is meshed with a little bit of Fusion thanks to the additional twanging of a folkish Middle Eastern sounding instrument that suits the tone of the music, as well as the more mechanical sound (in atmosphere and not performance) that hits from the chorus that just wraps everything together in under three minutes, but never feeling like it ever stopped for a second despite the section it does slow down. This is what happens when you can naturally merge these concepts together, and it’s clear that Alarum have that artform down.

“Evspanol” is really when the band starts to throw some of the Fusion concepts your way. This song isn’t necessarily one of them and just takes more of a Spanish instrumental and sound to it that honestly sounds good, though a little out of place, and it’s faster pace works well with the general speed of the album. “Non-Linear Parallels,” however, does usher in a lot more of the Fusion concept throughout the track, largely through what sounds like some freeform passages, and even just the way the drums are being handled. However, the general intensity and speed of the song are far from forsaken for the sake of this concept, and overall it really works to make it one of the catchier tracks on the album thanks to it’s slightly off-the-wall sound working with the catchy headbang worthy rhythm that already exists in the Progressive/Thrash Metal sound. “Interface” doesn’t have that strong a Progressive impact, and really ends up being a stronger Thrash track outside some of the more highly technical moments, but overall it ends up being another track you’ll find yourself bobbing your head along to, or tapping your feet to for the most part.

This is sadly where the album does start to show signs of possible filler material, though much of it still exhibits great talent. There is a bit of a random Fusion moment in “Interface” that hits in about a third of the way through, and admittedly this is one of the few moments that, when it does, it clearly just sounds out of nowhere and a bit forced, ultimately hijacking the flow of the song in a negative manner. Sure the transition back into the previous music works out well, but the sudden shift and momentary pause before that section starts up just feels more tacked on then something intentional and natural. But “Sensory Endeavour” more then makes up for that track’s lack of Progressive material, especially given it’s take on trying to capture the Classical music vibe within the band for this song. It’s an interesting track that does feel rather freeform Fusion in itself while highly technical with the traditional lighter Progressive atmosphere. It makes for a good instrumental, but it just feels out of place in the long run. There’s also the slow paced instrumental “Transpiration” which is actually a good song, it just feels out of place like “Sensory Endeavour” simply due to where this track is placed and what it has to follow. Neither of the song really mesh together, or even sound good back to back. It does make for a good segway into the intense and rather intricate “Undivided” that closes out the album in a manner similar to how it started, which is pleasing to the ears given the few tracks prior to that didn’t quite work out for one reason or another.

In the end Natural Causes does suffer from a few issues dealing with placement of songs and putting a few out of place tracks. It’s not necessarily bad filler, but it does come off that way despite how tight the music sounds and how impressive it can be. Alarum has been around for quite a while, and not pushing to release new albums within one or two years of each other shows through with some superb music that fans of Progressive Metal will easily say is worth the wait. It’s just sad that this group is still as underappreciated as they are, especially with the sudden interest in bands like Atheist and Illogicist of recent years. If you haven’t had the chance to experience Alarum yet, then now is honestly the perfect time to sit down and check the group out and see what they bring to the table.

01. Natural Causes – 3:22
02. Shifting Skies Like Nothing – 2:59
03. For New Creation – 4:45
04. The Signal – 5:23
05. Evspanol – 0:58
06. Non-Linear Parallels – 3:00
07. Silent Betrayal – 4:35
08. Interface – 3:37
09. Boundless Intent Part 3 – 3:20
10. Sensory Endeavour – 4:04
11. Transpiration – 1:27
12. Undivided – 3:41
Overall Score: 9/10

Digital review copy of this release provided by Willowtip Records.