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It’s hard to imagine that Job For A Cowboy started as the deathcore band that birthed the infamous “preheat pizza roles” meme with “Entombment of a Machine” and a classic Spongebob Mashup with “Knee Deep.” The band’s progression out of the 2005 Doom era has been marked by a clear desire to disprove the naysayers who derided them as trendy MySpace kids. As Jonny Davy became the only founding member, Job For A Cowboy successfully transitioned into a staple of modern death metal. But as their previous album Sun Eater suggests, they still had more to express. Now on Moon Healer, Job For A Cowboy completes their progressive vision. This album is full-on death metal for nerds, and it’s hard to deny how solid it is.

Suffice it to say that Job For A Cowboy‘s latest release is prog-death metal, not tech-death. As an opening statement of intent, the opening track “Beyond The Chemical Doorway” comes through with complex grooves and atmospheric chord progressions to match Tony Sannicandro‘s dazzling guitar solos and Nick Schendzielos‘s acrobatic bass lines. There’s still room for blast beats, sweep picking, and breakdowns, but it’s clear that Job For A Cowboy wants to do more than shred. This desire to push themselves as arrangers pays dividends throughout the album.

Unlike many prog bands, Job For A Cowboy keeps the majority of these songs under five minutes. This relative restraint allows cuts like “Etched In Oblivion” to make their statement without getting too indulgent. It’s also here where Sannicandro and rhythm guitarist Al Glassman forsake chugs in favor of winding mazes of dense harmony and dissonant texture (and seriously, listen to Schendzielos‘s bass. It’s so delicious). Coupling that with the evolving syncopations of drummer Navene Koperweis results in songs more akin to Gorguts or Cynic.

Koperweis‘s fusion pedigree (established by his stint in Animals As Leaders) has a particularly important impact on Job For A Cowboy‘s rhythm structure. He meshes swimmingly with Schendzielos’ slap bass at the start of “Grinding Wheels Of Ophanim,” but in a broader sense, his unpredictable chops let everyone in the band lean into eccentricities. Even so, he maintains a respect for time-tested extreme metal tropes as well. So, Job For A Cowboy can riff where it counts and pull off memorable motifs just as easily as they can divulge into a wormhole of oddity.

Job For A Cowboy shines the most when they balance their progressive tendencies with headbang-worthy awesomeness. But even then, a cut “The Sun Gave Me Ashes So I Sought Out The Moon” doesn’t simply divide into “the heavy part” and “the prog part.” Some of this is owed to Davy‘s vocal delivery, which remains as savage as ever. He knows how to play nice with nimble fretwork and drum licks, but his growls still beg for some low-end nastiness. This blurred line between brutality and complexity lets deeper cuts like “Into The Crystalline Crypts” flex impressive chops and cohesion from these musicians while not getting bogged down in pretentious noodling.

While not easy listening by any means, Moon Healer does manage to retain distinction from track to track. It’s especially clear in “A Sorrow-Filled Moon” that these guys know when to get out of each other’s way. The guitar solos happen during the more straightforward riffs, but both guitarists knowingly stratify their ideas to let the bass take over the melody.

In the same way, Koperweis can lock in with everyone with blast beats and double-kick grooves as easily as he can throw in curveball fills and time changes. In this way, the more “metal” parts feel like a cathartic release after the detours, like the jackhammer intensity and mosh-ready backbeat of “The Agony Seeping Storm.” Job For A Cowboy hasn’t entirely lost touch with the savage roots, instead using funky math-rock breaks and alien melodies to expand their sound.

Saving their longest for last, Job For A Cowboy isn’t about to surprise anyone with “The Forever Rot” at this point. They’ve grown comfortable with this new form, not feeling the need to throw a bone at old-schoolers or switch things up for no reason. The sonic flow of Moon Healer remains constant, guiding the listener through the choppy waters with grace and dynamics to boot. While it’ll be interesting to see how the pit warriors respond to this doubling down on prog, Job For A Cowboy is anything but stagnant.

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