Alarum are one of these bands who take forever between records; fans complained about the five years between 1999's Fluid Motion and ...Eventuality, and then a seven year wait ensures for the next effort. With this kind of delay, you can't help but wonder: was the wait worthwhile?
First and foremost: these musicians can play. There is no doubt that they have an incredible technical proficiency, and that they make sliding between tempos, styles, levels of intensity seem effortless. The solo work on the album has has a great flow and naturalness, a liquid quality that is stunning. The song structures are cerebral and complex without seeming strained. In short, their sheer ability is dazzling.
The songs on Natural Causes are shorter songs than a lot of progressive bands' work, with only one song over five minutes. It is clear that they focused much more on showcasing the various styles they work with and their impressive skills than they did building a cohesive album. Still, Alarum have assembled a solid collection here. The more that Natural Causes plays, tests the limits, and explores, the more I enjoyed the experience. The song “Sensory Endeavour” was a favorite (and also happened to be instrumental).
Which brings me to the one area where this band does not display an amazing level of skill: I am not a great fan of the vocals. They sound under-produced and are rather low in the mix. Technique-wise, the vocals range from short, harsh barking to the occasional bit of metalcore crooning. I think I'd actually like the album much more if it was entirely instrumental, as that's clearly where this band's strength is, and the vocals left me cold. Alarum are certainly capable of taking the listener on an intellectual journey without the singing.
The members of Alarum are all really fantastic musicians. Natural Causes is smart, complex, and maybe a bit more intellectual than gut-wrenching but I like the challenge, the brain-stretch, that they provided. The vocals, however, are a challenge,and detract from the instrumental passages, which can be transcendent.
(released October 18, 2011 on Willowtip Records)