Once Human – ‘Evolution’ [Review]
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Metal is all about questioning, challenging, and ultimately overcoming limits. Listeners tend to find themselves drawn into heavier and less orthodox territory as they become acclimatised to the styles they already know. Meanwhile, metal musicians today are forced to expand their horizons or risk stagnating, boring themselves and ultimately succumbing to some formulaic approach that might please traditionalists, but few others.
The title of Once Human’s sophomore album – Evolution – is well-chosen. It sums up the second stage of their journey in a single word, highlighting the fact that Once Human are not a band content to sit on their melodic death metal laurels and repeat themselves. What they’ve wound up with is a sick example of contemporary metal done right.
The world of progressive metal has been leading the charge of change in heavy music for some time now, inspired by the likes of Meshuggah, Periphery, and Between The Buried And Me. You can hear hints of those three bands scattered throughout Evolution, but we’re not talking slavish pastiches here. Once Human aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves at times, but they’re also clearly aware that in order to make a serious mark, they have to go one step further and assimilate the existing styles they love into something they can really call their own.
With Evolution, Once Human have done that.
Flock Of Flesh comes first, sticking close to Once Human’s familiar melodeath territory while the intensity gets cranked further than before, but Eye Of Chaos marks the point at which Once Human’s evolution really becomes clear. From its Periphery-evoking intro to the occasional dynamic dips populated by semi-serene synths, Eye Of Chaos became an early personal highlight. It’s fucking cool – and there’s more to come.
On the surface, Mass Murder Frenzy sounds like another melodeath excursion – and it is, partially. But at the same time, Once Human take pains to push themselves further, adding some progressive spice to a stark and brutal rhythmic onslaught topped off with completely uncompromising lyrics. On to Gravity…
If you’re currently craving a hectic djenty rampage, here you go. Gravity is already available ahead of the full Evolution release, and it is fucking immense. If you try and keep your neck still while Gravity is playing, you will fail – Once Human groove hard on that one, and I love it.
Right in the middle of Evolution, sixth track Dark Matter begins with relentless double-kick drums, making it an endurance test for both band and listeners. At Dark Matter’s halfway point, though, you’ll be rewarded by a series of some of the best riffs on the whole album. Then the meaty bass-based barrage returns, hailing the arrival of Evolution’s next section.
For me, Paragon is Evolution’s only weak link, although the track itself is far from feeble. Lyrically, it sums up the mindset behind Evolution, and the clean vocal sections are awesome – but after all that’s come before, the heavy sections feel too standardised, making for an odd impression overall. But then…
This track may owe a lot to Meshuggah and their disciples, but I couldn’t care less. Once Human own every moment of Evolution’s ultimate personal highlight, demonstrating absolute rhythmic mastery and serving up some perfect chorus hooks. Then there’s the stomping riff that enters around the three-minute mark.
And an epic clean-vocal-and-choppy-guitar outro.
This is the point where Once Human really level up.
A lot of albums start with a given band’s best material before suddenly going downhill – but Evolution is different, and I really respect Once Human’s ability to pace an album in a way that makes it engaging from start to finish. Killers For The Cure is simultaneously crushing and catchy, and Passenger gets proggy and complex as Lauren Hart declares “We’ve only just begun…”.
By the time it’s all over, Evolution really feels like exactly that – the sound of a band evolving their sound and still continuing to look to the future for fresh inspiration. What to expect from Once Human Album Three? Pretty much anything at this point. They could make their music catchier, cleaner, even heavier, and fit all of the above into a single song. You name it, Once Human could pull it off.
Overall, Evolution is vital, exciting, and free of compromise. It has to be repeated: This is contemporary metal done right.
92% (Essential Listening!)
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