The first thing you notice about 'The Harlequin' EP from West Yorkshire metallers Cotheria, is how well-packaged it is for a self-released effort. Coming complete with some very professional-looking, suitably gothic artwork, this four track EP makes a very positive first impression.
EP opener 'Pendulum' lulls the listener into a false sense of security, with an atmosphere-drenched, slow-building rumble, before Cotheria explode into full-on metal mode. Bullet For My Valentine used this technique to brilliant effect on 'The Poison's opening 'Intro/Her Voice Resides' double-header, and Cotheria make it work pretty well for them too. Twinkling chords and whining riffs glide over a gradual swell of synthesised strings, in a beautifully downbeat introduction that certainly sets the mood, and will have you sitting up and paying attention - more so, in fact, than if Cotheria had come in with all guns blazing.
'Pendulum' then goes for the throat, pummelling the listener with waves of chugging guitars and vocals that, while they're certainly guttural, probably don't sound as evil as Cotheria think they do.
However, the vocal performance does quickly improve. By the time the chorus comes around, the slight strain audible in frontman David Eriya's voice is gone, and his snarled contributions begin to sound particularly terrifying.
Added to this are churning riffs, which ricochet off a combination of tight drum-rolls and squealy chords, and makes for a chorus that delivers furiously focused metal, with a hooky, more accessible edge.
'Pendulum' reaches its peak during the bridge section. After a spell of melodic atmospherics, Cotheria throw up a solid wall of riffs that should just sound like noise but, with the help of soaring vocals, sounds dramatic and devastating in equal measures.
'Last Words' is even heavier, thanks to a chorus of throat-shredding screams, and an undercurrent of impossibly evil-sounding riffs. Cotheria even manage to inject this hunkering metal behemoth with a rock and roll swagger that makes it sound even heavier.
However, there are a handful of lighter moments, as Eriya layers clean vocals over drum-heavy sections, where the riffs are briefly relegated to the sidelines. But, then, the song roars back to full fury, and it all sounds even heavier following that brief light spell.
On the downside, the first part of the bridge section is given over to a drum solo, which has to be one of the most uninteresting instruments to listen to in isolation. Once the drum solo is done away with, Cotheria quickly get back into the swing of things, with machine-gun drumming, hammering riffs and screamed vocals taking 'Last Word' to a dramatic conclusion.
'Last Words' is this EP's heaviest offering, and will satisfy those who are turned off by even a whiff of melodic-metalcore.
'Snowfall' sees the return of the Cotheria atmospheric intro, as downbeat backing vocals and a delicate guitar refrain waft across a backdrop of eerie synths. Predictably, this vaguely cinematic soundscape doesn't last long, as Eriya suddenly erupts into full-on, deathcore-scream mode. It's another arresting beginning.
'Snowfall' is overflowing with long, grinding riffs and machine-gun drumming that'll pound the ears into submission, but it also boasts a surprisingly accessible chorus, with clean, towering vocals you'll actually be able to sing along with. This is metal to headbang along to - and then walk around humming for the rest of the day.
'Mourning Star' is this EP's quietest offering, with sections that see Cotheria take it down a notch and put a definite emphasis on melody. The intro, bridge and end-section all consist of thin chords, which swirl and flutter over steady drumbeats. Elsewhere, the song judders and lurches in interestingly ramshackle fashion, and seems to be constantly on the verge of shaking itself apart. It's addictively awkward and, by dismantling their sound a little, it becomes easier to appreciate just what competent musicians Cotheria are.
'Mourning Star' may not flow as easily as the rest of this EP, and it doesn't make the same impact as, for example, 'Last Words,' but it's perhaps necessary to include at least one song that shows Cotheria effectively pulling off a softer sound.
'The Harlequin' is four tracks of heaviness with a solid, underlying tunefulness and the occasional cinematic flourish that prevents it from sounding like screaming-and-riffs by numbers.
Rather marvellous Skiffle-Prog-Pop merchants.