Album Review: Disaster by Ostraca
One of the forebearers of RVA’s screamo scene, Ostraca are back almost exactly five years after the release of the dark and intense Enemy (2018). This time, they have hit us with their newest release, Disaster, which has hit me like an adamantine sledgehammer to the head. In terms of quality, it elicits everything aside from its namesake (to be clear: the album rules), but it also delivers on the loaded, cataclysmic implications that said title connotates.
Ostraca have previously delivered tight, aggressive, forward-thinking material in the past, with the unforgettable Deathless (2015) and the suffocating follow-up Last (2017). Both releases falling slightly under a 30-minute runtime, they assail the senses with an extremely raw, emotionally urgent primality that is difficult not to leave some deep impression on the listener.
Disaster is no different in those qualities (apart from being slightly longer, at 32 minutes), but their trademark aggression & extremity have developed into something more significant entirely. The production choices alone create a newfound sonic clarity in the band’s material, with a charring and near symphonic frequency range across the whole of the recording.
I cannot praise the guitar sound on this record enough. Brian Russo has some of the most creative and melodically conscious heavy guitar playing in music today, and that has been the case for some time now. The guitars both feel like staring directly at the sun and enveloping oneself in ice-cold water; it is an absolutely captivating thing to listen to.
The drums, too, have a controlled ferocity that makes it sound like John Crogan is attempting to tame some wild, stampeding beast. His performance on this record is reigned-in when needed and manifestly maniacal when it can bring any peaks that much higher.
Then there is Gus Caldwell’s performance. His bass playing is melodically complimentary, focused, and nimble, and welds the other pieces together seamlessly, which is no doubt impressive to me as a bass player. His vocal performance on this recording… is just… I don’t have precise words for it. The fidelity on this recording, paired with the high-gain distortion, heightens the trademark desperation & ear drum laceration in his deathly growls and hair-raising shrieks previously present on other Ostraca releases.
Each of these elements combined serves best to Disaster’s ultimate scorched earth ends. Compositionally, the songs progress from eruptions of liturgy-esque speed, volume, and brightness to groovy pockets of chugging post-metal detuned riffage to varied and pensive moments of quiet, like softer moments of Jerome’s Dream, all of which act as periods and commas between lengths of unbridled bludgeoning.
If you dig deeper into the lyric book of the record, it brings into clear view what I believe is the true goal of all these prior pieces which I have described. The album seems to grapple with the existential angst of the end of the Earth and Humanity — not so explicit as to state its cause, but those of us living through the beginnings of such a species-ending calamity may have some ideas.
Ultimately, the human project is doomed to end at some point, as with every single entity before it and every entity that will follow. And with that, every single one of us will be “forgotten, less than dust” in the “still and cold” of the universe — the lyrics make that much clear. Whether it is in 80 years, 8 thousand years, or 8 billion with the explosion of our sun, that is the fundamental inevitability that is tackled on Disaster. In the face of that notion, the album focuses on the necessity of coping with such an ongoing catastrophe, and the crushing powerlessness to truly do anything to stop it — yet feeling like you have no choice but to do something or risk walking death.
So yeah… that’s Disaster. It is a harrowing listen. Easily one of my favorite heavy music albums of the year. I cannot recommend it enough.
Disaster is available now to stream on all streaming platforms. Pre-orders are available now for vinyl records, CDs, and cassette tapes, which you can purchase via Skeletal Lightning or Ostraca’s Bandcamp page.