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By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Sunday, November 23, 2014 @ 10:57 AM

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Sun Eater

Metal Blade Records

Arizona's JOB FOR A COWBOY – or JFAC - is literally and figuratively a completely different band today from the one that rode the initial wave of deathcore and MySpace hype to a deal with Metal Blade and a triumphant debut with Genesis in 2007. Constant line-up churn has left frontman Jonny Davy the lone remaining member from “back in the day”. And as new members came aboard they have transformed the band's sound into something that barely resembles what it was less than a decade ago.

Yet this is one instance where change has been for the better. New players brought a fresh perspective and more seasoned, less derivative chops. And since lead guitarist Tony Sannicandro and CEPHALIC CARNAGE bassist Nick Schendzielos joined Davy and guitarist Al Glassman – a 2008 recruit – in 2011, the lineup has been quite stable, though drummer John “The Charn” Rice did leave last year.

JFAC's sonic metamorphosis that saw deathcore beget death metal that then grew more technically proficient really blossoms with the band's fourth album, Sun Eater. There is a far, far more pronounced progressive flair to the album that takes on almost jazzy air at times – as on the outro to the opening track, “Eating The Visions Of God”. Unlike the blunt force of the band's previous work, Sun Eater is more about finesse and nuance than sheer brutality – though there is certainly enough heaviness and harshness to go around.

Helping out tremendously in that regard is INTRONAUT drummer Danny Walker, who fills in for the departed Charn, a veritable human tornado. Given his stints with EXHUMED and MURDER CONSTRUCT, Walker is well-schooled in death/grind spray gun drumming himself, but here he brings the impeccable timing and jammy savvy honed with the more prog-minded INTRONAUT along as well and helps guide JFAC through Sun Eater's myriad twists and turns and swings of mood. His fluid drumming – pocked by plenty of fits of fury – plays especially well with Schendzielos' impressively limber, sinewy bass lines, for which producer Jason Suecof leaves plenty of room to stand out.

The guitars are somewhat muted here, boasting more of a shimmery, ragged tone than a calamitous grind or full-frontal chug, so when Schendzielos spider walks his way up and down the neck of his bass, you really take notice. That’s not to say Glassman or Sannicandro sound timid or soft – the mix is just more balanced and uniform than has become the death metal standard where the guitar churn, drum battery or vocal flame throwing, or some combination thereof, usually takes the fore. Here, the instruments and Davy’s shrieks and growls work in equal measure, which allows the band’s elastic and often gymnastic performances to shine instead of being buried under a wall of whatever.

You’ll know you’re in for something different with Sun Eater before the needle even drops on the album. The cover artwork is a far cry from the quasi-satanic “bone idol” icon and grim, monochromatic color schemes of the past, looking more vibrant, fantastical and almost biblical – in an end of the world sort of way.

And JFAC set the more progressive tone right off the bat, opening Sun Eater with the aforementioned “Eating The Visions Of God” and “Sun Of Nihility”, two meandering, rather deliberate epics that slither and swirl instead of going right for the throat - and introduce generous amounts of genuine melody with their sleek solos and hooks. “The Stone Cross” and “The Synthetic Sea” drop the hammer and pick up the pace as Walker busts out the blast beats and the guitars gain some heft, but Schendzielos' fleet bass runs still give them a free-form looseness that defies typical death metal rigidity. “A Global Shift” on the other hand, is a more of full-on death metal shit-fit, nimble basslines or no, whereas “The Celestial Antitode” makes for a compelling mix of punishment and panache as the band bring a little bit of everything into its sprawling six-plus minutes and Davy caterwauls like he's been possessed.

“Encircled By Mirrors” is Sun Eater's grooviest track, but retains the rhythmic liquidity that is a hallmark here and never resorts to breakdowny clownishness. “Buried Monuments” harks back to the opening tracks with the pronounced melodic splashes of Glassman and Sannicandro's guitar work.

The album concludes with a bit of a thud from the brooding drone of the oddly titled “Worming Nightfall”, but it's really the lone misstep here and doesn't do much to spoil what is otherwise a surprisingly satisfying effort. With its different, even daring, approach, impressive but never showy musicianship, and expansive scope, Sun Eater is a welcome evolution for JFAC. And the fact that the band has executed the transformation with this much aplomb here makes it all the better.

4.0 Out Of 5.0

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