The post-metal playing field has become so crowded in the last few years that descriptors like ambient, cerebral, crushing, and epic no longer mean anything to the discerning. If Isis, Mouth of the Architect, Cult of Luna and Pelican all share those same qualities in varying amounts, distinguishing one from the other is less about what’s there and more about how well the band’s approach exploits the potential of this oversaturated (in all senses of the word) genre.
Rosetta’s sophomore album, Wake/Lift, demonstrates that the Philly foursome has soaked up the lessons of its forebears well. From the get-go, repetitive mid-tempo riffs are doused in reverb and guitar effects, slathered with Mike Armine’s tar-coated vocals, set on fire, and shot off into space. You can envision the explosions in the sky on opener “Red in Tooth and Claw,” which rockets between wide-open dark matter and dense asteroid belts with more fluidity than most of the band’s peers. Wake/Lift tilts the scales in favor of atmosphere, submerging the metal overtones in a haze of electronics and excising them altogether on “Lift (Part 2)” and the overlong “Temet Nosce.” When present, Armine’s roaring is low in the mix, completing that sense of submersion.
And yet as well-crafted as Wake/Lift is, there’s nothing all that compelling or fun about it. Rosetta’s mastery of atmospherics doesn’t mean much without the cathartic metal money-shot, and when the band finally gets down to business, it reaches the same chilly emotional plateau every time — which is also the same place that every other band in post-metal strives for. Wake/Lift needs to be emotionally transformative to justify its sixty-five minute length. It’s a respectable entry in the post-metal canon, but it’s easier to be impressed by it than to be moved by it.