COSMIC JAGUAR – The Order Of The Jaguar Knights EP

Ukraine’s Cosmic Jaguar conjure some amazing riffs on their 2023 EP ‘The Order of The Jaguar Knights’. The four songs mix classic thrash – played at the high octane speeds set by bands like Exciter and Exodus in the early 80s – with lop-sided prog metal breakdowns, and the bulk of the music is joined by abrasive vocals that appear not to fit squarely with either genre. What this means, of course, is that Cosmic Jaguar are capable of summoning a hefty sound throughout.

It’s not an EP that eases the listener in gently, either. ‘The Shorn Ones’ opens with a slightly reverbed guitar throwing out a haunting riff, beneath which, Aztec chanting stokes up the atmosphere. The band then explodes into life: Alejo Babaro attacks his drum kit, offering a really tight, pneumatic riff which the guitars lock into with abandon. Within seconds, Cosmic Jaguar sound like a musical drill, hammering through their chosen style with absolute precision and major aggression. Their sheer anger even increases when Sergio Lunatico introduces a semi-retched vocal, and the riffs occasionally lapse into off-kilter prog metal moments. It’s all incredibly impressive, but not always easy to listen to. However, once you tune in, it’s great; the thrashier guitars have a superb tone, and the general anger from this DIY band is almost like a force of nature. With music as tight as many a major act, it’s clear that the trio can really play, but it isn’t until the lead breaks kick in, that the track’s most impressive elements emerge. The first solo flaunts a cleaner tone, crying above the chopping anger, which brings more melody to the fore; the second, played at lightning speed, invokes the atonal brilliance of the departed Jeff Hanneman, and with a brilliant – almost wonky – prog metal breakdown linking the two and a thunderous bass solo heard along the way, it feels like the full package. If you’re in any way attracted by this somewhat difficult opener, you’ll certainly love the rest of the EP.

Upping the ante in terms of both proggy indulgence and a great heaviness, ‘The Bleeding Tree of Tamoanchan’ opens with a flurry of thrashing drums, offset by a really intense prog metal guitar riff, making the band sound like they’re channelling Testament at their heaviest and ‘Awake’ era Dream Theater, simultaneously. This sounds even better when they drop a twin lead guitar tone into the riff later, but even from the off, it’s the kind of riff that shows the Jaguar machine somewhere near its fiercest. Elsewhere, unpredictable stops reinforce the angrier end of the prog metal aesthetic, but you’ll find plenty of melody here too, since lengthy instrumental breaks really latch onto more of an accessible prog sound, where clean, soaring guitars begin to sound like something borrowed from an old Arena album, whilst choppier rhythms allow the bass to work a more interesting rhythm. These quieter passages have the effect of making the metallic elements seem even heavier, of course, but these are superb too. With traces of Periphery in some of the more challenging riffs, guitarist Juan Maestro shows off an impressive talent throughout. As before, a few of the more abrasive vocals can be rather challenging, but there’s little doubt that Cosmic Jaguar’s overall juggernaut of noise has the ability to take on various other bands within the genre and hold its own. In some ways, the bigger focus on Latin influenced guitar parts and world music makes them more interesting than most. They’ve certainly made a bigger feature of these than most prog metal bands since Cynic broke through in the early 90s. A few screaming, trad metal vocals seem horribly out of place en route, but this never spoils the overall track; if anything, it shows how the band are absolutely unbiased when it comes to throwing things into their complex arrangements. In many ways, the sheer variety wedged into these four minutes makes ‘The Bleeding Tree’ the EP’s finest track.

In a slight change of mood, ‘Mirror of Obsidian’ opens with a fat bass tone, some intermittently chunky guitar and, eventually, a huge riff that owes even more to classic prog metal influences. It’s a superb intro, but not always representative of the huge sounds that follow. The first explosive riffs explore 80s thrash sounds, leading to an explosive lead guitar, and then slide into some atonal prog metal. It’s got all the makings of a brilliantly noisy, angular workout, then – unexpectedly – the band launches into a thrash/hardcore blend that sounds like peak Anthrax with the chugging guitar chords mirroring the bass drum instead of the bass guitar. It’s actually so close to capturing an Anthrax sound in a couple of places, you could even be forgiven for thinking it is Scott and the lads for a moment. In a couple of further musical shifts, more atonal prog metal bendiness allows for a frightening vocal to dominate and, eventually, another well played solo builds everything to a really angry coda that revisits a couple of the opening riffs, bringing everything full circle.

In closing, the band have chosen to cover the Cynic track ‘Veil of Maya’. In terms of cover, they’ve actually played it rather safe. The bulk of the arrangement stays true to the original cut, save for the fact the production values allow for a little more separation in places and one of the featured solos adopts a slightly bluesier tone, but synthesized vocals and female accompaniments are still very much a feature here, which helps retain the track’s distinctive feel. More impressively for a band who’ve shared such abrasive sounds up to this point, the quieter moments remain equally prog-centric, with the acoustic riffs sharing an almost Spanish feel. Once a few of the bigger riffs return, they cling onto a prog metal sound that still relies on a very 90s approach, but it’s When it’s when the big, abrasive climax presents itself, it becomes very clear as to why the band chose to cover this… Between the chunky guitar and almost funk rattle of the bass, it really celebrates the kind of aggressive sounds that Cosmic Jaguar make their forte elsewhere. In all, it’s a great cover, and a great way to finish.

These four songs are musically interesting. The thrash elements are as tight as hell; the occasional progressive elements add a strange element that often keeps the riffs on the good side of interesting, even though they can sometimes make the band’s work a little more challenging. A few of the more extreme vocals actually make this release a more difficult listen than, perhaps, was actually necessary, but these also add more of a unique flavour to the band’s sometimes chaotic sound. Overall, this is the work of a band who are strong enough to take their progressive sound further in the future. It isn’t quite as exciting as Lower 13’s ‘Deception’ in the boundary pushing stakes, but it’s a very much a release that’s still capable of giving genre fans something of immense interest.

December 2023