Regardless of what you think of their music, melodic death metal outfit Once Human certainly have a lot going for them. Not only do the Californian group feature guitarist Logan Mader, who has played with Machine Head, Soulfly, Medication and others, as well as working as a producer for the likes of Gojira, W.A.S.P. and Five Finger Death Punch, Once Human also boast one of the most striking vocalists in metal currently. The band’s frontwoman, Lauren Hart, flaunts an impressively vicious voice that few other female metal vocalists have achieved, and I imagine that many people listening to this band for the first time with no background information would mistake her for a man. Hart’s vocal delivery certainly packs a punch and puts her on the same level as many of her male peers, and this was well-established on the band’s debut, The Life I Remember. However, despite how appealing Once Human seemed to me on the surface, their first studio effort failed to maintain the initial interest I had in the band, with their approach to the melodic and progressive side of death metal being too formulaic and predictable to leave an impression on me, or even come through with any moments that I remember particularly well. I didn’t necessarily have any reason to expect more from the band’s sophomore album, Evolution, but given the title, I hoped that maybe Once Human had spent the past couple of years honing their sound as to make them stand out for reasons other than their strong frontwoman. Overall, Evolution yields many of the same results as its predecessor and has a similar effect on me, in that the moments that really impressed me are somewhat limited. This being said, Evolution does seem like an improvement for the band in certain regards, even though their approach to songwriting is largely unchanged. Whilst my qualms with this record are quite general and not serious enough as to make me actively dislike the project, Evolution is ultimately a mixed release that doesn’t quite capture my imagination as much as I had hoped Once Human would upon their initial formation.
Flock of Flesh introduces the record with a successfully strong song, although it signifies from the onset that Once Human have done little to alter their sound. As I hoped, Hart’s vocals are as biting, monstrous and gripping as I have come to expect, brandishing one of her best performances on the record. A handful of tracks on The Life I Remember display a clear influence from progressive metal, with various passages often flowing into one another, and this turns up once again on Flock of Flesh. The fluid nature of the song, at the very least, keeps the listener interested and, although the shifting between the parts of varying tempos feels somewhat forced, the band remain tight throughout these transitions, so I would argue that the gain outweighs the cost. Flock of Flesh also sees a particularly good contribution from Mader, who provides some melodic, and sometimes haunting, leads atop the pummelling groove. Eye of Chaos exhibits many of the same basic tropes as Flock of Flesh, but the end product isn’t quite as intriguing as its predecessor. Mader comes through with some similar guitar lines and this song features one of the few moments on the record wherein I feel that Hart’s vocals are somewhat lacking. Over the punctuated verses, which feature just Hart’s screams over an accentuated drumbeat at points, her voice doesn’t seem quite as strong without the rest of the band backing her up with low, palm-muted fifth chords and a steady, sluggish beat. When this song picks up, however, it falls into a groove that really is quite infectious and far outshines the more multi-faceted verses. It may be odd that the more straightforward section of the song is really what caught my attention the most, but it really is played so well as to be the main feature that I remember when looking back on it. Ultimately, the first two songs on Evolution, particularly Flock of Flesh, certainly warrant merit, but then again, they don’t mark anything particularly new or exciting for Once Human, rather they establish the familiar approach that recurs across the rest of the record’s runtime.
For the most part, Evolution follows suit rather predictably from its first two cuts, and the majority of the principles established on these opening tracks recur across the record to the point that few fresh sounds are introduced as the tracklisting progresses, making for a listen that has a limited impact on me in retrospect. Mass Murder Frenzy, for instance, is one of the more mundane tracks on the record overall, with Hart’s vocal delivery being relatively textbook, which isn’t helped by the trite metal lyrics, and musically-speaking, this is one of the more formulaic cuts on Evolution. By this point, the listener may have easily picked up on how Once Human tend to develop their song structures, so the twists and turns Mass Murder Frenzy takes are pretty simple to foresee and, when they arrive, they don’t quite change things up enough to signify a particularly beneficial pay-off. The closing track, Passenger, suffers from almost identical ills to Mass Murder Frenzy. Despite standing out thanks to the nice keyboard lick at the beginning of the track, my same gripes appear here; Hart’s performance is more rudimentary than her best deliveries, the structure isn’t developed to a particularly satisfying degree and some of the passages go on for a bit too long. This is also one of a few cuts on Evolution to feature sung vocals from Hart, but they are incorporated rather awkwardly into this cut as to not reap the benefits that a softer, sung passage on a death metal track could. At their core, there aren’t really any bad songs on this album, and most tracks on here display at least a few interesting ideas that capture my attention for the time that I’m listening to the record, but the end product is a somewhat passable project, rather than the truly impressive effort that I feel Once Human are capable of achieving.
Ultimately, whilst Evolution marks no real stylistic or structural growth for the band, Once Human shows signs of being able to tailor a sound that is unique to them. Indeed, much of this record alludes to an individual sound for the group, with Hart’s impressive growls when she’s on the top of her form, Mader’s eerie guitar leads that play over the chugging rhythm section, and a clear willingness to play around with song structures at times. However, Once Human seemingly fall into an approach that comes off as rather formulaic, meaning that the impact of the songs later on in the tracklisting is significantly diminished, which only highlights some of the more technical flaws with these tracks. Nonetheless, I see why many people would be very enthusiastic about this band and this album, and I’m sure many melodic death metal fans would find what Once Human are doing to be quite intriguing, but for me, I feel like the band are yet to fully actualise their potential.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10