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Monday 11 November 2019

Review: Schammasch (Big Review By Paul Scoble)

Schammasch: Hearts Of No Light (Prosthetic Records)

Schammasch have been in existence for a decade. In that time they have made 3 albums; 2010’s Sic Luceat Lux, 2014’s Contradiction and 2016’s Triangle, and one EP. The five piece who are clearly fans of truncation as they only have initials are: C.S.R. Vocals and Guitar, B.A.W. Drums, M.A. Guitars, A.T. Bass and J.B. Guitars. The band is based in Basal in Switzerland, and the name Schammasch is taken from the name of the Sun God from Akkadian/Babylonian mythology.

The album gets underway with a short (ish) instrumental called Winds That Pierce The Silence, which opens with a very florid, romantic piece of piano, before huge and heavy guitars come crashing in to a brooding build up, a melody guitar lead drives the track forward until it arrives at the first song Ego Sun Omega. Ego Sun Omega opens with dissonant echoey guitar riffs and spoken, harsh vocals. The riffs keep coming, until we have a multi-layered tremolo picked riffs, over blasting drums. This is our first taste of what I think is this albums signature feeling; huge stacks of layered tremolo picked riffs. The feeling that initially comes with this is chaotic and hypnotic: insane swirling chaos; but after 3 or 4 listens you start to be able to feel order in the chaos. After enough listens you realise that : Yes there is chaos, but it’s controlled chaos.

There is an underlying sense of structure to the pandemonium, the maelstrom has a controlling intellect behind it. This is a staggering piece of composition. After our first taste of this controlled maelstrom (which does return), the track gets more direct and driving, everything points in the same direction, until the whole thing drops for a quiet brooding section, a brief pause for breath before things get extreme again. With blasting drums and those direct, attacking riffs again, but again, more and more riffs are added till Insane Swirling Chaos is once again achieved, the maelstrom then slowly fades till the end. The next track A Dream Ablaze is a short track which feels like an instrumental, even though there are vocals they are spoken and low in the mix and echoey, so it feels like a piano led, trip hoppy instrumental.

Next track Qadmon's Heir is a complex beast, it’s almost an exercise in confusion and misdirection, as a listener, you feel pulled in all directions. It opens with direct, aggressive blasting, but as time goes by, dissonance is added, the blasting becomes less direct. We then reach a section where the vocals come in and it’s immediately slower and much more choppy, and staccato in rhythm. This feel then gets faster and faster and clean, chanted vocals are layered into the track. We are then catapulted into a very fast and nasty blasting section that is some of the most extreme music on this album. After battering us for a while the band bring everything down again with a soft and melodic section, after a little chanted, clean vocals are added, this section then slowly fades to the end of the song.

Rays Like Razors starts slowly and quietly, with dissonance being added as the song progresses. Aggressive vocals come in, and the intensity builds. This intensity is answered by incredibly nasty blasting, and a menacing vocal line that is repeated over and over, once this gets too much the song heads into insane swirling chaos territory and the vocal lines become hypnotic; this whole section is verging on oppressive, but never strays over the line, again, amazing composition. The song ends with a slow, dissonant section that slowly fades. I Burn Within You opens with a very high register guitar riff and impassioned, verging on manic vocals. Everything gets nastily dissonant, with more of those clean, impassioned vocals. This tracks stand out feature are those clean vocals that are ardent and passionate, almost dervish-like, at the height of religious fervour. They cut through the music and give it a near hysterical, raving quality, that is the main emotive driving force behind the song. So, when we get some very direct riffs the song still feels unhinged and out of control, a similar feeling to the controlled chaos sense that the band do so well musically. After this direct section, the song becomes solely manic, out of control piano, with ‘those’ vocals, before one final blast and dissonant piano and chanting end the track. The songs on this album are massive and sprawling, but always under control, and after a few listens, nothing feels jarring or out of place; no matter how strange and otherworldly this becomes.

A Paradigm Of Beauty is in some ways the strangest song on the album as it is the most normal. It’s a gothic, slightly new wave feeling track. It has clean vocals throughout, although without the manic lunacy of the previous track. In some ways it’s most like something The Cure would do, mid-paced but always driving forward, and with a great chorus. The guitar sound has that slightly twangy gothic feel of The Mission or Fields Of The Nephilim, or, well, The Cure. This might seem incongruous, on an album with so many blast beats, but in many ways it acts like a palette cleanser after the manic feeling of the proceeding track, and the extremity that coming next.

Katabasis has a long, brooding opening that slowly builds, drums are added before going into an almost ridiculously fast, blasting section. The track then adds insanely fast vocals that are almost deranged and out of control, at this point the blasting takes on the chaotic but deliberate feel that is sooooo good on this album. This is one of the most aggressive and savage parts on this album, it’s ferocious and wild, it borders on scary how savage this band can be when they want to. This much intensity couldn’t last too long, and the track crashes into a slow, meditative section for a while before the blasting savagery returns for a short time, but this too drops to a much more melodic and tuneful section with some nice chanting, before a dissonant ending.

Innermost, Lowermost Abyss brings the album to a quite strange ending. The track opens with clean, but dissonant atmospherics. A clean, classical guitar is added and this slowly builds to become full on Flamenco classical guitar, with tribal drumming behind it. This section feels expansive and huge, there is a feeling of ritual and ceremony about it. The track then goes into an ambient drone section where different tones are mixed in a deeply meditative way. After a few minutes, just as it feels as if it is coming to an end, the tones get more layers, get louder, more aggressive and some distortion is added, this then builds quickly to a huge crescendo, and then; Silence, as the final note. This might sound like a strange way to end an album, but in the context of THIS album; it fits perfectly.

Hearts Of No Lights is a massive, sprawling, contemplative, aggressive, viscous, beautiful, engaging, hypnotic, disturbing and cathartic album. It feels like Schammasch's career to date has been building to this album. For me the central feeling is of balance. This is about equilibrium, everywhere it gets dark, there will soon be light, wherever there is feverish chaos there will soon will be calmness and piece. The structure of each individual song, as well as the structure of the album as a whole seems to be based on this feeling of balance. Even the end of the album; insanely huge crescendo followed by several seconds of silence, a final yin and yang to end the album. There is a huge sense of religious fever (although it is undefined which religion, I get the feeling that Schammasch wouldn’t lower themselves to getting denominational about this) running throughout this album. 

I definitely feel that this album has a sacerdotal function; it is channelling energy to the listener from somewhere higher, or maybe it would be more accurate to say ‘Other’. The band are an intermediary between the listener and a greater power. In a purely musical sense, this is a stunning album, it’ll take a few listens to get really into it, it’s a complex beast that deserves some effort from the listener, but if you do give it some time and energy, you will be rewarded by one of the best ‘Spiritual’ Black Metal albums I have ever heard. Absolutely stunning! 9/10

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