Album Review: No Living Witness – “Cosmic Simulacra” 7.5/10 (Melo Death)

Written by Kep

No Living Witness Cosmic Simulacra
Blackened melodic death metal from Washington, USA
Releasing July 2 via independent/self-release
7.5/10

No Living Witness is one of those bands that doesn’t hold its sound to a single subgenre. Throw a death metal base in the pot to start, and then start chucking in every ingredient you can think of that pairs with it. A meaty hunk of melody gets things really going, and then add several hearty spoonfuls of black metal, a few slices of technicality, and couple dashes of prog. Season with a pinch or two of brutality. Let that simmer together so the ingredients create layers of style and flavor. Now start dishing that tastiness up. That heaping helping in front of you is Cosmic Simulacra, No Living Witness’ new album*

Obviously when you throw that many influences together into a single package, there’s a question: does it actually work as a whole? The answer in the case of Cosmic Simulacra is yes, it totally does, and no matter what label you apply to them, No Living Witness is cooking up good shit. 

Sam Haglund and Joshua Young are the guys behind this two-man outfit out of Washington state; Haglund handles guitars and programming while Young is on lyrics/vocals. They’ve actually been around since 2006, releasing an LP and EP in their early years and then going almost a decade before returning in 2019 with Holocaust, their second full-length. Cosmic Simulacra, though, shows the maturing of a band coming into its own; their songwriting has improved noticeably. At 46 minutes it’s not a short listen, but it’s an enjoyable one that only drags a few times in the longer tracks. More on that later. 

Despite the techy and prog spice, the bread and butter of No Living Witness’ style is combining the epic lines of melodeath with the fire and ice of black metal, and it’s on display from top to bottom on this record. Opening track “Discarded Ember from the Universal Flame” starts subdued and gradually builds to a flying tremolo-picked main riff that sails along with hoarse screams above pounding double bass. “Dimensions of Diviner’s Saga” vibes more on the techdeath side, a fun switch after the opening track, but there are again epic melodies aplenty, like the one that starts a minute in after a twisting little guitar solo. Standout and lead single “Sailing on a Cardboard Sea” will blow your hair back with its majestic passages of huge wall-of-sound meloblack, but also includes downright proggy passages featuring clean vocals, tapping, and groovy bass lines. “Words Once Written” features a number of classic melodeath riffs plus a section with piano and full band, “Individual Sovereignty” features an opening passage of chunky riffing supported by orchestra synths, and closer “Terra Nova” starts and ends with passages of brutal power but shines with a grandiose blackened section in the middle. 

As far as performances go, both members do a nice job. Haglund’s melodic work has a sense of the grand to it, like he’s exploring space time via his guitar. I really enjoy his bass playing as well, especially in the handful of great passages driven by the bass. The programmed drums are intelligently written and don’t stand out in that obnoxious way that programmed drums sometimes do. Young’s vocals have a suitably wide range for the huge stylistic palette, including death growls, blackened screams, and some passionate cleans. Mastering duties were handled by Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams, and he split the mixing work with Haglund, who did all the recording. They do a nice job striking a middle ground—not too over- or undercompressed, instruments in balance and vocals not too dominant. 

Cosmic Simulacra does have some flaws, but they’re not hard to look past when everything around is so enjoyable. Some of the more progressive elements—like the choir effect at the beginning of “Words Once Written”—feel extraneous and more like a novelty than an integral part of the sound. The two lengthier tracks on the second half of the album (“Words…” and “Individual Sovereignty”) lose their forward momentum towards the end of their runtimes; in both cases a calm, quiet passage creates a false ending in a place where a real ending seems right, which for me made the remainders of the tracks seem a bit tacked-on. Additionally, most of the tracks connect to one another as the album plays through, and in a couple cases the ending of one song is nearly indistinguishable musically from the opening of the next; maybe that’s the intent, but my opinion is that having tracks blur together can create an “it all sounds the same” effect that will turn some listeners off. 

Quite frankly, though, these are all pretty minor issues in the scope of the album as a whole. No Living Witness has put together a tasty helping of well-written and exciting blacktechprogmelodeath, or whatever you want to call it. Grab a plate and dish yourself up a hearty portion, because Cosmic Simulacra will surely satisfy your hunger for quality metal.**

Favorite track: Discarded Ember from the Universal Flame

Score: 7.5/10

* Shit, now I’m hungry.

**I promise to never use food metaphors this extensively again.

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