Czar: No One Is Alone If No One Is Alive

Jason Novak is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Chicago industrial scene. Mention Acumen Nation to most fans of either extreme metal or industrial rock, and chances are good no one’s heard of them, and if they have they, they tend to have very polarised opinions about them. This is mostly due to the fact that around 6 albums in (depends on if you count EPs, and just how metal you consider Strike 4 to be), Novak decided to go full-frontal metal assault for the long haul, and got weird with it too (turns out rivetheads weren’t exactly ready for “DnB death metal”). Come to think of it, Strike 4 was more along the lines of post-hardcore than anything else, so if ever there were a blueprint for wtf’ing your fans right into the stratosphere, Novaks advancement of the Acumen brand is the gold standard.

 

That said, few people throughout the history of modern independent rock, metal and electronic music have successfully combined so many disparate styles as Novak and the revolving cache of Acumen entourage has (RIP Jamie Duffy). Starting around The 5ifth Column, Acumen began hybridising even further, with hints of seriously vicious riffing and an always looming atmosphere, like Jack Dangers and Bill Steer took a bathysphere deep into an ocean of sequencers and triple rectifiers. Hints of Fear Factory if they decided to keep pushing the envelope instead of watering themselves down, KMFDM if maybe En Esch had stayed and been allowed some more license to get weird with the metal elements, Acumen ran further with the baton than most metal industrial bands, and the results were fairly consistent overall, and frequently as innovative as they were brutal.

 

 

As with all experimentation, however, sometimes the potion boils over, or the brew tastes a bit skunky. Acumen’s track record may be a little spotty, but Novak and co. have always brought a serious amount of heart to every single thing they’ve done, and currently Novak's production work is some of the most awe inspiring in music, so at the very least you can sit back and admire the man’s ability to twiddle knobs and make rack gear sing. In 2009, Jason took a more studied approach to metal and formed Czar; all the riffage of later era Acumen, stripped of the crazy atmospheric and electronic stuff, and approaching something along the lines of a more melodic Cult of Luna. The first full length was critically acclaimed and labeled “thinking man’s metal” by the music press, and Czar got a well-deserved spot opening for Killing Joke on a national tour. Czar's live shows are frenetic and every bit as entertaining as their records and the band have a bright future ahead of them…if they can keep the momentum.

 

The first half of No One Is Alone If No One Is Alive is more of Vertical Mass Grave, but with a bit of additional atmosphere. Nothing as dense and machine driven as Acumen, and even VMG had its share of backing tracks, but it’s definitely a conscious move forward into atmospherics. The production is shockingly good here. The album has width and punch and despite a silly riff around 2:10 in Aortic Flower that really has no business being there, the first half of No One Is Alone… is a damn fine heir to VMG, if a bit samey. Then, a cover of "She’s So Heavy" by the Beatles happens, and you can't figure out if you really like it or if you want to turn the album off, and from that point on, the disk simply fails to impress. The final two tracks are a bit more interesting than the two prior, but literally, the entire second half of this album is forgettable to the point where, even after two “college try” listening sessions, it’s still difficult to recall anything particularly interesting, aside from how recycled the riffs start to seem. Bizarrely, the slick production begins to grate after a while as well. Something about the drums. It's a bit like a rich cake, delicious but best consumed in more sensible portions. Maybe after some repeat listens it might catch on but Czar are cannibalizing themselves by the end of the record, and the results are pedestrian at best.

 

Make no mistake, Czar are a great band, and a powerhouse of independent metal. Novak has a great ear for experimentation, riffage and engineering, and long history of pushing the boundaries of heavy music. No One Is Alone…is, unfortunately, not a sustained effort, but the first five tracks, at least, show there’s still some hope. Let's see where this goes.

 

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Written by Mort Subite

Czar: No One Is Alone If No One Is Alive
Cracknation Records
2.5 / 5