Posted on May 21st, 2010 (1:57 pm) by Ryan Hall

In a recent and excellent interview with SLUG magazine, Rosetta guitarist Matt Weed said, “I’m getting more intentional in figuring out how you can communicate hope in the format we are using.” The format, for those unfamiliar with the Philadelphia quartet, is genre-blurring metal that relies heavily on atmospherics and soaring shoegaze-influenced guitars to create sprawling tracks that move from brutally heavy to immediate and cathartic. A Determinism of Morality coalesces the ambient segues and straightforward metal of their wildly ambitious debut double LP and expands on the melodic genre-meld of 2007’s Wake/Lift.

So where does “hope” exist in a genre so casually associated with violence (both musically and lyrically) and cultural isolation? How does a metal band turn the conceit back on itself without, you know, going all Stryper on us? I can pinpoint it down the exact second. After about 1:30 of subtle major chord riffing over Bruce McMurties all-over-the-place snare rolls and plodding bass drum kicks on the song “Revolve,” titanic gang vocals rip through the track at 1:43, in a moment that splits the difference between a rolling-in-the-aisles Pentecostal outburst and a gladiatorial war cry. It is in this moment that Rosetta’s mission, their whole raison d’etre, makes sense. A declarative statement of purpose and personal evolution coming out of a genre so rigidly transfixed in its own cultural baggage that expressing anything outside of the basal line of general worldly dissatisfaction seems impossible and woefully uncool. A total abandonment of principles, man.

Kudos to Rosetta for putting us in our place. However, I would be remiss if I were to say that Rosetta are strictly reading out of the heavy metal playbook. A Determinism of Morality draws as heavily on post-metal pioneers Isis and Neurosis as it does the multi-tracked guitar work of shoegaze idols Ride and Swervedriver and the pacing and compositional structure of heavy post-rockers Red Sparowes and Pelican. Pitting standard metal practices of impassioned growled vocals, heavily distorted guitars, and a crushing low-end rhythm section against some of the more graceful elements of their influences doesn’t have the same grating effect that it does on paper.

The melodic screams of Mike Armine blend effortlessly into clean singing on the bridge of “Release,” the first and only of its kind on the album. Breakdowns like this, in which Rosetta are at their most elegant, fly in the face of the notion that the breakdown is the most chest-rattingly heavy element in metal standard operating procedure. In fact, Rosetta move with ease between virtuoso technical-freak outs, in which Armine shreds his vocal chords in one of his impassioned howls, to sweeping instrumental segues that characterize each five-minute-plus track.

It is safe to say that Rosetta are not working in a vacuum. While being informed by peers Tombs, Cave-In, Balboa, and Pelican, Rosetta stand apart in their ability to combine their influences seamlessly while pushing into sonic terrain that is relentlessly optimistic, exploring emotions that exist on the periphery of metal.

Being a non-musician in the world of music journalism sometimes has its advantages. For example, most music, no matter how ill-executed, still retains a sense of mystery for me, just for the sheer fact that I can’t do it. While I rely heavily on musician friends to help me navigate through some of the technical aspects of basic musical structure, I still engage music on a purely emotional level, a subjective knee-jerk reaction tempered by years of over-analyzing and a commitment to listening to an album at least three times before even beginning to formulate an opinion. Hearing Rosetta for the first time is an experience in which the pure emotional release cuts through any formulaic breakdown of the elements going into the music. All other considerations go out the window; sometimes it is better to listen to music in a cloud of unknowing.

Track List:
1. Ayil
2. Je N'en Connais Pas la Fin
3. Blue Day for Croatoa
4. Release
5. Revolve
6. Renew
7. A Determinism of Morality

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

79 / 100
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