With a title variously described as sounding like a Mortal Kombat finishing move, a pose Jet Li might strike, or a post-apocalyptic robot terminator shaped like a feral cat, the press kit for "Black Earth Tiger" stresses one thing above all others: this ain't your daddy's Emanuel, apparently. Much like Mr. Hyde turning into Dr. Jekyll, they are now "experimental." One almost gets the feeling that Emanuel wants this to be their White Pony -- migrating like the Deftones from a straight riff-rock/metal sound into something slightly more cerebral and rewarding, yet still heavy -- but until they start selling eight different versions of "Black Earth Tiger" in different colors, they're only part of the way there. Still, everyone has to make a record about the end of their world, and this is Emanuel's. And, thankfully, it's a pretty damn solid one.
True to form, opener "Whiteflag" is initially quiet as it stews like Godspeed! You Black Emperor after losing their string section to radiation poisoning, then fires up into more standard "doom rock" fare, with throaty, booming, downtuned guitar chords sustaining under Matt Breen's wailing "the end is near." This brings us to "Cottonmouth," with familiar Emanuel tricks showing up in full force, but with added techniques like droning, bent guitar leads, and harmonized screaming to usher in each chorus.
"Anathamatics" sees the band busting out an octave pedal along with whatever dictionary they were using when they came up with a few of the titles on the album. As CKY fans might already have guessed, the song is instantly groovable, destined to become a mosh pit classic at live shows.
The clear winner among the pack, though, as far as living up to the promises of the press kit, is surely "Phobos," which begins with a truly space rock, "fried electronics" guitar collage, and quickly turns around into simultaneously one of the catchiest and headbangingest tracks on the entire record, topped in accessibility by only "Let Them Die," a poppy, head-nodding bubblegum metal song about pulling the plug on your friends.
After this, the record tends to be a bit dronier than necessary, but finishes strong with a 'reprise,' extended version of "Whiteflag," which, while also drony, closes out the record nicely in much the same way that "Pink Maggot" lands the quietus on White Pony.
After a listen or three, it's hard to hear much that has changed from 2005's Soundtrack to a Headrush aside from a diminished emphasis on vocal hooks and more attention paid to guitar effects, layering, and texture. But the old Emanuel was a godsend in the face of more generic, blandized metalcore, and overall, "Black Earth Tiger" delivers more of the same spitfire punk-metal aggression as "Soundtrack to a Headrush."