Two years on from their ‘Belly of The Whale’ album, this six track release from Ambassador presents the band in a slower and heavier mood than ever before. Throughout ‘Care Vale’s half-hour playing time, The Baton Rouge based post-rockers tackle a world of slow and intensive riffs, taking their sound further towards the gothic/doom variety, but without completely abandoning their previous love for a few proggy quirks. It’s worth noting that, from the outset, this slight musical shift means there isn’t anything on offer as immediately likeable – or melodic – as ‘Feral As They Were’, or necessarily as atmospheric as ‘Diorama’, but in terms of riffs, extant fans should still find something to enjoy.
‘Colonial’ opens with a heavy prog metal riff, a huge drum roll and more than a hint of progressive metal quirkiness, but as the main riff hits, there’s a definite 90s vibe with hints of Smashing Pumpkins and early Tool playing out. As quickly as that is set in place it’s all change again, when a heavy post-rock groove rises, placing the band in a similar sphere to Deftones. For those who enjoyed the band’s previous proggy quirks, all is not lost – all the while this fuzzy intensive riff plays out, a complex guitar part contrasts the heaviness with a brilliant counter melody. The way that riff continues underneath a dominant lead vocal actually makes the arrangement feel a little claustrophobic in the long run, unfortunately; it’s hard to focus on the vocals and lyrics with such busyness, but things definitely improve again by the instrumental break where it’s clear Dustin Borne possesses a great tone. Some listeners might hear traces of Welsh proggers Godsticks; others will certainly latch onto the heavier post-metal aspects, but combined, it creates an interesting, if cluttered, opening track. It takes a few listens before the subtler moments begin to shine through, but once everything clicks, it definitely has its own strengths, even if it’s an acquired taste.
Opting for something quieter (and superior), a heavy rhythm – made better by the general lack of cymbals – powers ‘Voyager’. The arrangement takes the bones of Chino Moreno’s Team Sleep, a pinch of Jane’s Addiction’s trippy freakouts and a hefty dose of late period Porcupine Tree and Pineapple Thief and mixes them up to create a dark, but fine progressive/post-metal sound. The moody, mid-tempo riffs are a fine backdrop for a slightly husky vocal, and although the number is absolutely devoid of lyrical hooks, fans of progressive metal (note – that’s metal that’s unafraid to stretch out, as opposed to Dream Theater styled “prog metal” boredom) should glean a lot of listening pleasure. Repeated listens never seem to weaken the impact of this track, either. Between the echoing delay on the guitar, some fine drumming from Ean Savoy and vocalist Gabe Macnair showing more of a range, it’s a fine hybrid of alternative and prog – and is one of the band’s best tracks to date. After showing off a gift for atmospheres, Ambassador wastes no time in bringing out the heavy for ‘Subterfuge’. At the outset, a doom riff chugs intensively. Adding a bit of extra fuzz and a haunting lead guitar, the effect is like hearing a Crowbar classic. After almost three minutes of this not changing mood or tempo, the listener is left wondering how the band will follow such a massive shift towards a heavier sound, but the belated arrival of a vocal also signals a necessary change and the music takes on a jagged post-metal groove, very obviously derived from Tool. That doesn’t really latch onto anything, though, and soon enough the original riff makes a return, joined only by a howling lead guitar for extra gothic interest. In terms of actual “song”, there’s nothing here, leaving a track that’ll only be enjoyed by people that think heaviness is the most important commodity. It’s never bad, as such, just fairly uninteresting.
In terms of darkness, the title track fares much better, with an ominous and spooky vocal applied to echoing guitar and a few slightly detached harmonies. As the track opens, it feels almost cinematic, as if created to soundtrack visuals of a dystopian dust bowl. A little farther on, its moody post-rock sounds gradually wash over the listener, though never in a boring way. Big on atmosphere, the arrangement is a fine showcase for both Gabe’s bass work and Jason Ourso’s soaring guitar sounds. Much like ‘Voyager’ it’s hard not to draw easy comparisons with more melodic experimental outings by 90s alternative bands and a couple of the heavier moments suggest at least one member of the band is big on A Perfect Circle. Although this track is derivative of a couple of its influences, the sense of atmosphere and scale cannot be faulted, while the musicianship – for the style in hand – is first rate. ‘Severant’ crashes in with a return to heavier things, before the guitars fall away to expose a trippy, echoing sound that’s part prog and part post-metal, with another strong call back to 90s alternative. As you’d expect, it’s perfect for Gabe, often giving his voice more room to move. It’s therefore a bit disappointing when another sledgehammer riff comes in, smothering the more interesting elements. While there’s no doubting this band handles the heaviness well enough, they sound so much more inspired when allowing themselves to delve into something a little more on the trippy side. Closing the release, the lead single ‘Spasma’ fuses heavier post rock elements with a touch of gothic darkness, much like a couple of earlier numbers, but does so in a more balanced way. The twin guitar sounds lock down a very dense sound almost throughout, but Gabe’s voice dominates, and the way it rises on what passes as a chorus makes this sound like a more cohesive effort all round. It doesn’t break any new ground in relation to the previous tracks, but in terms of capturing a sound – and a band seemingly determined to push forward with a much more oppressive musical presence, it does a decent job. As before, it’s easy to imagine that fans of the Deftones’ more interesting stuff might just find something to latch onto here.
For those who like mid-tempo grooves, dark atmospheres and just a touch of techy complexity, this release may well have some appeal. For those who fancy hearing something that sounds like a collaboration between Chino Moreno, Tool and the heavier end of Godsticks, it’s certainly going to push the right buttons if approached in the right mood…even if its maudlin style and reliance on too much similarly paced material doesn’t quite lend itself to regular listening.