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Album Review: A STORM OF LIGHT Nations to Flames

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Josh Graham inaugurated A Storm of Light in 2007, shortly before exiting the band he helped found, Red Sparowes. Having also spent the entirety of that decade moonlighting as a visual artist for erstwhile post-metal kingpins Neurosis, it was perhaps forgivable that Storm started off as a more plodding, less engaging xerox of the two primary bands Graham had cut his teeth with previously.

That all changed in 2011 with the release of As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade, of which the mere title alone tipped the world off that the Sparowes penchant for convoluted, mythopoetic wordplay – with more than a touch of pretension – had certainly rubbed off on Graham. As the Valley is where Graham finally learned to focus the obtuse meanderings of his prior Storm material into accessible (yet still adventurous) song craft. 

The results were a breakthrough, in word of mouth if not actual sales or crossover potential. Still, it got A Storm of Light on every metal fan's lips, not to mention lucrative touring opportunities with the likes of Tombs and Converge. Add to that a graduation present in the form of a Southern Lord recording contract and the band couldn't have positioned themselves in any better position for 2013 to be a banner year.

And so it's all the more ballsy that Josh Graham and his bandmates have largely jettisoned the more esoteric elements of their post-metal pedigree altogether for a more industrial-tinged hardcore sound. "Omen" wonders aloud what it would sound like if members of Prong and High on Fire formed a supergroup, while "Disintegrate" boasts rhythms and a chorus that wouldn't be out of place on a Fear Factory LP. Throughout, Graham's vocals absorb the influence of both FF's Burton C. Bell as well as a strong dose of Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke) on the less abrasive moments.

The sum comes off not as a betrayal of the past but more like several steps have been skipped over in the band's evolution. There's a "missing link" quality here between past and present, an omission of progress that ought to have been charted for posterity but ostensibly wasn't, but that's not necessarily a bad thing… if whatever furtive experimentation that bridges the gap between As the Valley of Death and Nations to Flames is worthy of the Storm of Light brand then it will no doubt see the light at some point or another.

The important thing here is not what's absent but what is present: Nations to Flames is the strongest Storm album to date (post-metal kvltists feel free to disagree) and ought to earn Graham & co. that hard won crossover buzz that they've been on the cliffhanger precipice of for the past few years. There is considerable potential here for alienation of existing fans, but new ones will inevitably be won over, and for the veteran fans that remain the substantial broadening of A Storm of Light's artistic palette can only further cement their unflagging loyalty.

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