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Friday 6 May 2022

Reviews: Dischordia, I Am The Night, OU, Row Of Ashes (Reviews By Zach Scott, Paul Scoble, Matt Bladen & Richard Oliver)

Dischordia - Triptych (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Zach Scott]

Dissonant death metal is not a genre for the faint-eared. An oppressive and abrasive subgenre, born out of an unholy fusion of old school death metal, black metal, grindcore, mathcore, and doom metal, dissodeath is always an intense listen. And Triptych, the new offering from Transcending Obscurity Records’ new signing Dischordia, is no different. Raw, dark, violent, and progressive, this album is a sprawling exploration into the possibilities of death metal. 

The first thing to point out is the stellar production on this record; Colin Marston, who has sat at the board for similar bands such as Gorguts and Replicant, struck a fine balance between rawness and clarity on Triptych. Every instrument and sample is clear and in your face, yet remains abrasive and rough – a difficult balance to strike at the best of times, no less when dealing with such complex music. His mixing and mastering fits the feel of the album perfectly, and there is no doubt that the band chose the right man for the job. A triptych is a painting split into three sections, and both the album art (an excellent portrayal of the album’s contents by Gianni Martucci-Fink) and song layout reflect this. 

The songs are divided into three movements, each comprising of three songs: The Observer, The Carriage, and The Escape. There is little to distinguish these movements in terms of the musical content; it is more of a thematic and lyrical separation. The music itself, as is typical of the style, largely disregards standard time signatures, harmony, and tonality. As a result, it is complex and cacophonous, but still able to maintain a level of sonic and technical precision which clearly showcases the musicians’ skill – especially the dizzying lead guitar work of Keeno (the solo in La Petite Mort is ripping, and it’s a shame there weren’t more) and classic DiGiorgio-esque tech death fretless bass work by Josh Turner (especially the unusual melodic bass line in Panopticon). Most interestingly, there is very clear homage to the unique progressive rock of Jethro Tull, with the idiosyncratic flute-led interludes in Bodies Of Ash and The Carriage. Acoustic or clean interludes are commonplace throughout the album, serving as respite from the sonic carnage; however, they do feel almost shoehorned in sometimes and not written with quite as much thought as the rest of the music. 

For example, the acoustic interlude in Spirits Of Dirt goes too long without anything of particular interest happening, and the overabundance of these odd interludes, while interesting, make the songs slightly more predictable than they otherwise would be. Another interesting influence the albums demonstrates is that of deathcore – often maligned by those within technical death metal, it is unusual to hear direct influences from the style. However, there are several instances of breakdowns very reminiscent of early deathcore, such as the end sections of of the Carriage and La Petite Mort, respectively. 

These relatively simple and skull-crackingly heavy sections contrast very well with the rest of the music; the sparse use of 4/4 (or standard time) in general makes for some devastatingly heavy passages, while not detracting from the overall chaos of the songs. One issue with this album is there are several ideas which feel as if they could’ve been expanded on to greater effect – one example is the almost triumphant choir synths at the final passage of the entire album in La Petite Mort. While it is true that using this idea extensively would have taken away from the impact of the album’s epic close, slight suggestions of the choral idea would serve to both enrich the music and further the idea of the album being a cohesive concept. 

The idea of Triptych, in terms of its division into three movements, is interesting but, again, could’ve been taken further in terms of making each movement musically distinct and connected, ie the three songs of each movement could be musically similar to each other, and distinct from the other movements. That is, of course, a very difficult feat to achieve without the music being boring and repetitive; but it is doubtless that the skilful songwriters of Dischordia could pull it off. Overall, the album is an excellent and epic work of dissodeath, and was executed masterfully. There is no doubt that, in future, the band can take their songwriting and technical ability to even greater heights, or as some might say, depths. 9/10

I Am The Night - While The Gods Are Sleeping (Svart Records) [Paul Scoble]

I Am The Night are a four piece based in Finland. The band, who are made up of current and ex members of Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum, Paradise Lost and Vallenfyre amongst quite a few other bands, have released one single last year with Hear Me O’Unmaker; While The Gods Are Sleeping is the bands first album. I Am The Night is Janne Markkanen on bass, Waltteri Väyrynen on drums, Markus Vanhala on guitar and keyboards and Okko Solanterä on vocals. Musically I Am The Night play a very melodic form of Black Metal rooted in the 1990's, specifically in Telemark, Norway in the 1990's; as I Am The Night are clearly very influenced by Emperor. While The Gods Are Sleeping could be seen as an homage to the best band to come out of second wave Black Metal, Emperor. 

Everything on this album screams Emperor, the songwriting, production, instrument sounds, all has that Emperor Feel; this influence is so clearly being worn on the bands sleeve, it seems ridiculous not to mention it strait away. A number of bands have taken this approach of taking Emperor’s style and using it as a sub-genre (I once reviewed an album by a band who played ‘Emperial’ Black Metal), usually this involves fairly blatant stealing of complete sections of Emperor’s songs in a way that is less Homage and more copyright fraud. However, I’m pleased to say that I Am The Night, are not talentless plagiarists, this is a true homage. Everything on this album is very well done, it’s no surprise that this is a band made up of experienced musicians. The production is perfect, the mixing is stunning throughout, the guitar, bass and keyboard sounds are perfect, the keyboards in particular are identical to Emperor. 

This sound is then used on songs that have the spirit and feel of Emperor, but without stealing anything directly. So, every song has a feel that is recognisable, but without anything specific being copied. So Hear Me O’Unmaker has an In The Wordless Chamber feel at the beginning, but is closer to I Am The Black Wizards by the final quarter. The Owl is very similar to material from In The Nightside Eclipse, in particular Towards The Pantheon. The blasting fast, energy packed track Dawnbearer, has more than nod towards Ye Entrancemperium. The fact that this is done so well does allow the band to sidestep any kind of plagiarism accusation. It also helps that the band have added some elements that aren’t Emperor themed. The tracks Ode To The Nightsky (Feels like Curse You All Men) and Among The Unseen Ones feature some very pleasing chanting, that has a mellow smooth feel to them, it’s maybe a little reminiscent of some vocalisations used on more recent Enslaved material. 

While The Gods Are Sleeping is a great album. It’s clearly an album that celebrates the members love of Second Wave Black Metal, and Emperor in particular. It’s been done so well that over the last few days when I’ve been listening to it, it makes me feel like I’ve got a new Emperor album. The sound is so well reproduced, and the songs are so well written, it’s tricked me into thinking Ihshan, Samoth and Trym have released a new album. I’ve really missed new Emperor albums since Ihsahn decided to take a more progressive direction, it was nice to feel as if a new album was out for a few days. Highly enjoyable, if not groundbreaking album. 8/10

OU - One (InsideOut Records) [Matt Bladen]

I'm not quite sure what I think about this record. Not the best way to start a review, where I'm supposed to give a decision and an opinion but I don't really know how I feel about it. One is the debut album from progressive metal band OU (pronounced O), the band was formed by in demand American drummer/songwriter Anthony Vanacore who is based in China. Much like with a lot of session players, they have a need to create their own music, so he has recruited fellow long time session men Jing Zhang (guitar) and Chris Cui (bass) to start writing the music that features on this record before gaining Lynn Wu on vocals. 

Musically they tap into the musical strangeness of Devin Townsend, Between The Buried And Me and even Tool, opener Travel 穿, getting us started with some heavy grooves, interlaced with plenty of electronic oddness, set against this are the ethereal, often shrieking vocals of Lynn who brings touches of The Gathering, Kate Bush and Bjork with her dynamic, soaring vocal style. It's a strong way to start laying down what OU are all about choosing to play a very progressive style of music, but choosing to perform the lyrics in Chinese. Farewell 夔 floats along breezily in the style of some classic prog, as Mountain 山 brings some off time rhythms, it's all musically impressive though for me the mixing means that you are almost bludgeoned by the vocals, leaving the instrumentals feeling a little weak, the drum sound is especially strange. 

After the interlude of Ghost 灵 which features some nods to traditional Chinese music, it's on Euphoria 兴 where the full progressive tendency of OU is realised, almost like trip-hop version of Yes, filtered through Radiohead, it's the weirdest song on the record by a margin but does mean the record drags a little until the riff-laden Dark 暗. I understand that they are trying to make music without boundaries but for me One has a case of too many cooks, they really need to knuckle down on trying to make their music a little more cohesive, perhaps longer songs with experimental passages within them. As I said there is a lot to like here, but I think it just feels a little bit like a studio experiment to me. 6/10  

Row Of Ashes - Bleaching Heat (Surviving Sounds) [Richard Oliver]

Bleaching Heat is the new album from London noise sludge trio Row Of Ashes. Drawing from the frustration and anger of events of the past two years, Bleaching Heat is a relentless and uncompromising record. Mixing elements of sludge metal, noise and hardcore, Row Of Ashes create a nightmarish soundscape with crushing downtuned guitars and a wall of thick bass, discordant noisescapes and the hardcore bark of frontman Chris Wilson.

Songs such as Worcester Man, Jerk and The Next Away are face ripping bouts of sheer aggression and frustration and truly sound and feel like the band exorcising their inner demons though the most effective for me were songs such as The Wreck And The Mill and Contraband which mixes atmospheric and introspective sections with the face breaking aggression witnessed on other songs. It is these more peaceful moments which make the explosions of anger and aggression all the more effective. Album closer In Summation has a post-rock vastness to it alongside some massive thick riffs that make it a suitably epic yet crushing finale to Bleaching Heat.

I’m not much of a fan of noise and hardcore and can be quite picky about the sludge bands I listen to but Bleaching Heat ended up being quite a decent record. The discordant nature of it doesn’t really appeal but the atmospheric and quieter moments took me by surprise and there are moments of pure sludgy denseness which will bring a smile to the face of anyone who is drawn to filthy disgusting music. Row Of Ashes didn’t wow me with this album but this is still very listenable stuff. 6/10

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