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Album Review: CIVEROUS Maze Envy

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In a musical landscape as oversaturated as Southern California, bands like Civerous require work ethic and musicianship to make a dent. To that effect, the band has spent the past 5 years carving a unique space between experimental and old-school death metal. Their debut LP Decrepit Flesh Relic has the ominous ambience and dissonant textures expected from Hissing or Portal, held together by chunky riffs at the foundation of the death metal movement. Civerous certainly made enough waves to enter the 20 Buck Spin roster, from which label they now release their sophomore LP Maze Envy. With just enough melodic motifs and agile fretwork thrown with the cavernous melee, Civerous continues to refine their sound.

Civerous creates a deep sense of fear and paranoia as the intro track "The Azure Eye" piles on layers of eerie tremolo strings and acoustic instrumentation, like the soundtrack to a forgotten A24 film. This atmosphere carries over to "Shrouded In Crystals," as guitarists Daniel Salinas and Alonso Santana come through with a wild array of violent riffs, melodic tremolo lines, and even some proggy curveballs. Together with the brutish, yet tasteful grooves of drummer Aidan Neuner and the filthy low end of Drew Horton, vocalist Lord Foul has the perfect canvas for his ghoulish incantations.

Salinas and Santana have no trouble injecting beauty into their savage delivery, which more than justifies the second interlude "Endless Symmetry" and its serene tapestry of intertwined fret-work. It goes to show how much more Civerous has to offer than heaviness, although brutality comes through in spades on "Labyrinth Charm." If jagged riff changes, a shredding guitar solo, and a black metal-ish torrent of sorrowful leads and blast beats weren't enough, the song even enters a death-doom form for its final moments. This diversity of sound isn't exactly surprising, considering every member of this band has at least some past in black metal, doom metal, or both. The more exciting part is the way Civerous can throw so much into the mix while always circling back to unfiltered badassery (not to mention some quality guest vox from Derek Rydquist of The Zenith Passage).

Speaking of curveballs, "Levitation Tomb" takes an almost post-rock approach to death-doom, with lush soundscapes filling out the bottomed-out guitar strains and plodding drums—only to crash without warning into a chug-tastic attack. While this song does contain some bonafide fight riffs, clean guitars, and even synth patches continue to shine through at just the right moments. This displays a keen ear for arrangement, further highlighted by the title track's foray into pure ambient rock with elegant strings and nuanced percussion. Sandwiched in between devastating dirges and an overwhelming melancholic onslaught, the dynamics Civerous brings into play could fill an entire album. The fact all of this can happen while keeping things catchy and head-bangeable speaks to the balancing act at play here.

Although certainly more melodic than prior Civerous releases, Maze Envy finds a way to use melody to increase emotion rather than water things down. It certainly helps the 10-minute closing track "Geryon (The Plummet)" remain compelling as it slowly grows from mournful drudgery and mid-tempo stompings to beautiful laments. The riffs don't take a back seat when the atmosphere increases. Removing the keys, strings, and quiet passages would leave raw, doomy, blackened death metal awesomeness. These extra elements only increase the impact of the abject heaviness. Even Lord Foul's vocals take on a more emotive quality in this context, even though they more or less equate to standard guttural delivery.

Civerous pushed themselves as songwriters on their second album, but not at the expense of their roots. There are still plenty of caveman riffs and evil vocals to appreciate, but Maze Envy proves how diverse death metal can become without forsaking its punishing nature. These guys have a unique vision for the genre and should be in the limelight for anyone looking for bands doing the genre right.

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