I always feel a flutter of excitement whenever a debut makes it my way. Big or small, it’s a refreshing reminder that there is no shortage of creative people or endeavors, always an abundance of artists willing to let their passions fly freely for the benefit of strangers like me. Even if it’s a miss or not particularly unique, that someone was willing to jump out of the damn metaphorical plane is the bigger issue at hand.
International upstart Ekoa took the leap in March 2022 with Chrysalis, an independently released 4-song EP marking the band’s first release since coalescing in Kraków in 2020. Comprising musicians from France, Poland, and Spain, Ekoa’s opening volley is both aggressive and melodic. Death, progressive, and even some post-metal influences create something both solid and groovy. Baleful growls and soulful clean vocals trade focus while a dual guitar attack flourishes and riffs in front of percussion that pushes each rhythm and fill to its fullest. Ekoa injects enough complexity to color their songs with a vitality that will keep successive plays fresh and nuanced, but not so much complexity that listeners become obstructed from fully embracing the rolling turbulence of “The Stoic” or the thunder of “Chimera”.
Chrysalis is good, and extremely competent. I also think it under-delivers when taking the band’s pedigree into consideration. All the songs feel a little safe, and I would expect something more sonically diverse given all the bandmember’s previous efforts. It’s like looking at an equation and feeling like something dissipated when all the distinct elements on one side got churned into the conglomerate on the other side. Bassist and vocalist Aurélien Thomas appears well-versed in progressive death metal via his solo project Karthesis, and that influence on Ekoa is evident. Whether intentional or not, though, every song feels firmly leashed to a middle ground between “death” and “progressive” to keep anything from straying too far into either territory. Further, if there’s any connective tissue linking the sleekness of “Delegation of Thoughts” to any of the grittiness found in drummer Sergio Barbero’s back catalogue it’s stretched tenuously thin. The same can be said for Staszewski’s noisy thrash roots, where the frenetic energy of his work with Mastemey doesn’t quite sound like it made the transition into this EP. Granted, attempting to morph damn near every metal subgenre into one brief package is nothing short of a fool’s errand. When so many diverse backgrounds merge into one entity, though, it’s a little disappointing when the result is something so uniform.
If all this follows whatever blueprint Ekoa drafted up for themselves, then Chrysalis can be counted as a success. But even if not, the result is still excellent. Ekoa has created a refined, listenable, and enjoyable introduction to themselves without committing to a final form. This band is beholden to no one, and while I don’t think successive releases will veer drastically from this release it’s unreasonable to expect Ekoa to remain static for any length of time. What’s here is good, what’s coming will be better, so keep an eye out.
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