Another year, another Cloudkicker album. The instrumental one-man project from Ben Sharp is guaranteed to put out a new record every year, generally in autumn or winter, and Subsume keeps the streak going.
Under this moniker, Cloudkicker has done a lot to promote a DIY spirit in a digital age, which deserves much praise and credit. What deserves equal kudos is his creative flair too, being an early innovator for technical instrumental metal, recorded with home set-ups, long before everyone had an eight string and forum habit. Not only that but records like Let Yourself Be Huge have allowed him to explore acoustic arrangements and even tinkering with vocals while standalone tracks like ‘Hello’ saw him venture into drone.
Showing that he has a lot of gas left in the tank, he released the stellar Fade last year, a return to ebulliently heavy riffing with massive hooks, though not to the same exhaustive but utterly exhilarating heights of Beacons. If anything, this new album Subsume leaves a question mark behind.
Thematically, Subsume appears to be something of a concept record. Just look at the rather lengthy track titles, most notably the 37-word third track. Sharp has also pushed himself to lengthier compositions too with one track clocking in 16 minutes, where he shows his mind for paced expression allowing a song to build and build, rather than one adrenaline burst.
Regardless of this, Cloudkicker is still at a crossroads. What needs to be done to shake things up a little bit? Sharpe has maintained much of the volatile heaviness while balancing it with affecting ambience, something Fade harnessed very well but there are plenty of predictable moments too like the flurries of Meshuggah-ish riffs and double kick drums, the latter programmed as per usual we assume.
The final track on Subsume, is where Cloudkicker finally starts to push things to the limit. Where we’re first greeted with familiar chiming passages but soon we’re met with a monolithic riff sodden in distortion, drowning us all in swathes of crushing guitars. It sounds almost Sleep-like or akin to Bongripper, which is what makes it so devastatingly refreshing.
Perhaps some vantage points could say this comes a little too late, being positioned at the very end of the record but it serves to remind us that in the grand scheme of things, Subsume may be Cloudkicker’s weaker record in an otherwise dazzling streak of albums.