Balboa / Rosetta - Project Mercury [Split]
Record Label: Level Plane Records
Release Date: April 24, 2007
The cynics will say the trend-hoppers ‘had to go somewhere’. Ever since screamo – emotional hardcore to the uninitiated – grew ever-more tainted by mistaken comparisons with make-up wearing teenagers, the proliferation of Orchid records lining bargain bins and garnering 99c on ebay should indicate that your average Pitchfork-reading hipster wants nothing more to do with the Saetia’s and You and I’s of this world. Whilst a few lifers remain to prop up the crumbling foundations of the genre, the fact remains that there simply aren’t enough bands or fans to continue to sustain the scene as it once was. Increasingly, we have seen record labels, once ground-zero of this underground darling, forced to turn their attention towards other styles of music simply to sustain their existence. Few have been more successful than Virginia’s Level Plane Records. This label has released a host of truly excellent doom/post-metal releases of late, just as all those misplaced hipsters have come flocking to said genre. While the aforementioned cynics will argue it’s all been calculated to ensure maximum consumption, this reviewer would argue Level Plane’s track record shows they simply know great music when they hear it, trendy or not.
The label’s newest release will have aficionados of all things heavy salivating in anticipation. Project Mercury sees hardcore holdouts Balboa going head-to-head with space-metal astronauts Rosetta to deliver six new tracks which run the gamut from ambience to raw power and back again.
Balboa open the record with three tracks which vacillate between traditional screamo stylings and post-rock passages more common to their partners on side B. In my experience, Balboa have always delivered dark and earnest, if slightly predictable hardcore, the likes of which can be found on "Primitive Accumulation." "Kaddish," however, sees them venturing into City of Caterpillar territory, beginning with a flourish of intensity before descending into a seemingly endless breakdown. The intensity returns, but only some four minutes after the repetitive riffing may have already grown redundant for the less attentive listener. "Planet of Slums," however, is a more effective combination of the best elements of the preceding tracks, and finds the band really hitting their straps and, for the first time here, sounding truly comfortable in their own sonic skin. All in all, Balboa are clearly making an effort to progress beyond the oft-tired medium of the hardcore genre. Whilst there are undeniably some teething problems present here, it’s a commendable effort nonetheless, and leads one to expect big things from their future endeavours.
Rosetta are the next to step up to the plate with two tracks in excess of 10 minutes. Those who have heard the band’s two-disc monster The Galilean Satellites would be right to expect big things from their contribution to this record. Unfortunately, Rosetta just can’t seem to recapture the intensity which is so prevalent on their much-heralded debut, and ultimately, both songs leave the earnest fan slightly wanting. "TMA-1" builds promisingly as the listener eagerly awaits an explosion of heaviness. The eventual payoff, however, is nowhere near as intense or crushing as one would expect from their previous work. What should be a brick wall of noise instead sounds like vague fuzz, overwhelmed by the twinkle of ambient guitars with no real depth or weight. Perhaps it’s the absence of vocalist Mike Armine’s searing death growl, but whatever the case, the song remains solid yet unspectacular, and a bit of a disappointment for those of us who know what Rosetta are truly capable of. "Clavius" follows in a similar fashion, but with Armine entering early in the caper to propel the music forward. The skull pounding I’ve been craving finally appears four and a half minutes in, as feather light arpeggios dance around an onslaught of down-tuned guitars like distant starlight twinkling above a dark, pounding ocean. While still lacking when compared with their previous efforts, it’s a step back in the right direction.
"Project Mercury" sees two bands form one in an eight minute instrumental jam. Collaborative tracks on split records rarely reach beyond the level of ‘filler’, but here Balboa and Rosetta manage to seamlessly integrate different elements of their respective styles to produce a sludgy post-rock piece which rightly stands as an excellent song in its own right. "Project Mercury" serves as an indication of how successfully these two bands from differing musical scenes have managed to intertwine common elements of their sound to create a true album with a cohesive flow, and not merely a disjointed sampling of throw-away b-sides from each artist. For this, both Balboa and Rosetta deserve due credit. As do Level Plane for releasing this album and others like it, in doing so continuing to push the boundaries of hardcore, metal, and ambient rock.
Though both Balboa and Rosetta have left themselves room for improvement in these songs, this disc gives a good illustration of why these two bands will soon be at the forefront of their respective genres, if they are not there already. The trend-hoppers may well love this album, but for once I think we can say that they may just be onto something.