Review: “Neon” by Erra

Forming almost a decade ago in Birmingham Alabama, Progressive Metalcore quintet Erra have followed up 2016’s highly recommended “Drift” with “Neon” via Sumerian Records. Taking their name from Akkadian Mythology that represents mayhem and out on this summer’s incarnation of The Summer Slaughter Tour with The Agony Scene and Born Of Osiris among others, we thought we’d take some time out to check out this new release.

The album starts with the meloncholy opening chords and clean verse of previously released single “Breach” before leaping headlong into Metalcore riffage at pace with those Tech-Metal guitar flourishes previously heard on “Drift”. The song brings Erra into the same arena as Australian Tech-Metalcore heroes Polaris¬†with some Tech-Metal inspired breakdowns and and a fine balance struck between the clean and unclean vocals. “Monolith” continues the path with a driven bass line all and some eerie atmospheric lead guitar tones buried beneath the melodies. The Tech-Metal guitar solo and unclean vocal lines save the song that overdoes the clean vocals and threatens to lose the groove generated by a brilliant hook. Third song in and with “Signal Fire”, there is more of the same. The guitars are distinctly Tech-Metal but the tone isn’t a heavy one and the unclean vocals are dialled back with the cleans taking centre stage. “Signal Fire” has a big epic progressive guitar solo that is interweaved into the main riff as it closes.

“Valhalla” steps things up with blast beats underpinning tapping riffage and stuccato bass line delivered with greater urgency with the unclean vocals. Fortunately when the clean vocals do come in, the uncleans are used as a layer underneath and the energy of the song isn’t dissapated. Again, comparisons to tracks on “The Mortal Coil” from Polaris or even “Deadweight” by Wage War are obvious in terms of styling and production. The closing breakdown brings that home. “Hyperreality” opens with an almost out of tune version of the songs main riff before stepping into the full version with some clean and crisp drum work. As with the opening tracks, the song focuses more on the melodic side of the bands sound and the unclean vocal parts sound out of place against the backdrop of progressive melodic guitars.¬† Fortunately “Ghost of Nothing” steps things up again with a more rounded approach, this time by introducing more pace and energy into the mix. Some chunky breakdowns and gutterals from JT Cavey interspliced with the cleans in a far more balanced way lead to a better end result.

“Disarray” maintains the groove of the previous track with some glorious tapping work and a bouncy bass line underpinned by some buried ambient electronic sounds. Before too long, the melodic unclean vocals take over and while there is not slow down, they take away rather than adding to the song. “Expiate” starts with another glorious tapping section but delivers a heavier punch as it builds into a more Metalcore guitar sound. The energy builds rapidly during the verses and it manages to hold together well. “Unify” is a classic example of the the unclean vocals not fitting the sound of the song itself and whereas in some songs the uncleans save the song, this is one where the cleans save it. There is a distinct Periphery sound to the musicianship on some of the songs and this is one where that really comes to the fore.

“Ultimata” is one of the better balanced songs with the cleans used in the verse and the uncleans in the chorus for the most part. Building from a bass solo in the later part it closes on a high of sorts.

The problem with “Neon” is that Erra have lost the balance they previously found with “Drift”. The unclean vocals sound like an after thought in places and what you’re left with is essentially a progressive tech-metal album that has the sort of clean vocals you’d expect from a pop-punk release. Perhaps the band are making a more towards a more Periphery inspired sound. Part of the issue is the choice of guitar tone. The clean, Progressive Tech sound is nice but it means that the only bite comes from the unclean vocals. Given that, there are places where songs start to bleed into each other and lose their momentum. There is no doubting the quality of the musicianship or song writing abilities on show, it’s just that while there are a few gems and each song contains something to shout about, it’s not as good as the bands previous efforts. [6.5/10]

Track listing

  1. “Breach”
  2. “Monolith”
  3. “Signal Fire”
  4. “Valhalla”
  5. “Hyperreality”
  6. “Ghost of Nothing”
  7. “Disarray”
  8. “Expiate”
  9. “Unify”
  10. “Ultimata”

“Neon” by Erra is out now via Sumerian Records

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