With their first EP, Doom, Arizona’s Job For A Cowboy rode a wave of MySpace publicity into the hearts of Hot Topic-shopping, pig squeal mallrats across the country. And they’ve been paying for it ever since. While the band’s musical evolution and sea change of arriving and departing members has seen them become more proficient with each new release, that checkered past had death metal purists hesitant to embrace their output. While their first full-length, Genesis, dabbled in a more refined approach, their second, Ruination, saw the band finally step out of deathcore’s shadow and show its potential. On 2011’s Gloom EP, and 2012’s excellent Demonocracy, Job For A Cowboy established themselves as true contenders in the world of technical death metal, and still, message boards echo the wails of dwellers decrying poseury. This year sees Job For A Cowboy respond with Sun Eater, a truly superb slice of instrumental acrobatics and tech death savagery.
A key to Job For A Cowboy’s ever-evolving sound is surely its ever-evolving roster. The latest incarnation of the band sees sole founder, vocalist Jonny Davy, accompanied by long-time (by JFAC’s standards) guitarist Al Glassman, guitarist Tony Sannicandro, bassist Nick Schendzielos (Cephalic Carnage) and session drummer Danny Walker (Intronaut). This is a formidable collective of dudes. Glassman and Sannicandro’s riffs are just as sharp as those that drove Demonocracy‘s finest cuts (“The Manipulation Stream” and “Nourishment Through Bloodshed” annihilated every song in the band’s back catalog), but they’ve paced the fretboard wizardry in pockets so that Schendzielos and Walker have the breathing room to really shine. For the first time, JFAC’s sound seamlessly incorporates elements of prog and doom in ways that draw comparisons to some of their more revered contemporaries. Some of Sun Eater’s finest moments come in the places where JFAC’s influences make these songs feel the most familiar.
“A Global Shift” and “Worming Nightfall” are reminiscent of the best moments from Obscura’s Omnivium or Spawn of Possession’s Incurso. The opening combo of “Eating The Visions of God” and “Sun of Nihility” bends and seethes with Cynic and Death worship. But while the band’s influences are worn clearly on their sleeves, this isn’t a collection of ripped-off riffs and poor impersonations. “Buried Monuments” unites the best parts of the aforementioned acts’ versatility with the more thrash-oriented stylings of traditional death metal bands like Morbid Angel or Deicide. These songs are more than just their influences. They’re powerful and fresh, unified and expansive. And each piece is tied together by Davy’s unique presence and tortured delivery. This guy’s gone from pig squeal poster child to one of the most instantly-recognizable voices in death metal. And while past JFAC outings have featured thematic undertones (the seediness of VeriChip technology, the moral bankruptcy of war-for-profit American capitalism, etc.), Sun Eater represents the first time Davy’s lyrics and the band’s music have truly come together to form a true-to-form, bona fide concept album. The cohesion between vocals and instrumental arrangement owes, without a doubt, to the fact that Davy, Glassman, and Sannicandro have had a long enough working relationship to genuinely rely on one another for fleshing out these songs to their fullest potential.
Demonocracy amply demonstrated how Glassman and Sannicandro’s styles complement one another. But Schendzielos and Walker are performing together as a rhythm section for the first time on Sun Eater, and if I didn’t read it in the liner notes, I never would’ve known. What the band presents on this album is a batch of tracks created and executed by some of the finest purveyors of the craft. Job For A Cowboy is a post-industry collapse success story of the first order. By hand-picking seasoned musicians from across the genre and across the country, Davy’s managed to break out of the “kids in the neighborhood” basement mold that sees so many bands hindered by the fact that their drummer sucks, but their drummer’s also Peter, the guitarist’s best friend from four doors down. There’s zero fat on this machine. Each of these musicians came to play, and the A-game laid down on Sun Eater is nothing short of a towering monument to dedicated musicianship in a genre rife with dispassionate noodlers.
The album suffers very little, arguably, if at all. While the concept flows well, the sequencing feels a bit stilted. “Eating The Visions of God” and “Sun of Nihility” are both excellent songs. However, their breadth would feel more exploratory if they were placed in the album’s middle. As it stands now, with these tracks opening the record, that same breadth feels a bit more like lagging momentum. It ultimately comes out in the wash, as “Buried Monuments” and “Worming Nightfall” close out the album perfectly. Sun Eater also features a cameo on “The Synthetic Sea” from Cannibal Corpse’s legendary George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. Having this guy on your album is never a bad thing, especially on the heels of Corpse’s exquisite A Skeletal Domain. Unfortunately his tracks are synced with Davy’s, which makes for more of a meaty ruckus (a la Fisher’s duet with Eric Rutan on “The Time To Kill Is Now”) than the fantastic trade-off that would’ve occurred had Fisher’s contribution been allowed to shine on its own. But let’s be real; in the end, these complaints are nit-picky bullsh*t. Sun Eater is fantastic. Buy it immediately.
Sun Eater is available now from Metal Blade.