Deathspell Omega’s new EP, Drought, is this distinctive French band’s first offering of music since Paracletus completed their conceptual trilogy of full-length albums in 2010, and it can be considered a further movement in the direction charted on that last album.
While the music (and perhaps the lyrics) create an aura of approaching catastrophe and convey a sense of freedom from external constraint that link it to the ethos of black metal, little remains of black metal’s most widely known (and most stagnant) musical tropes. There is also nothing on Drought that closely resembles the demon asylum quality of Fas – Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum.
What Drought does offer is an experience that is at times memorably beautiful and at times utterly chaotic but always completely enthralling. The songs are intelligently constructed and performed with a high level of technical panache, and they’re organized in a way that provides an appealing sense of flow through the EP, even though that path is subject to a multitude of twists, turns, and jarring turbulence.
The EP is bookended by “Salowe Vision” and “The Crackled Book of Life”, two largely instrumental songs that are the most melodic offerings on Drought. Stylistically, they share more in common with prog and post-rock than black metal. At the outset of “Salowe Vision”, guitar chords ring like cracked, rusted bells, a slow tolling, as if to announce the isolated melody that follows, which drifts dreamily and buzzes with reverb before the song accelerates and intensifies at the finish.
On the other end of the EP, the early part of “The Crackled Book of Life” carries a ringing guitar melody, propelled by sharp, varied drumming and an active bass line. After the introduction, a massive bass lead and the sound of a horn act as a bridge to the swirling, head-nodding guitar melody that winds through almost the last two minutes of the song. The only vocals are clean, subdued, and at least partly feminine.
In between these two melodic, atmospheric instrumentals are about 13 minutes of discordance and barely controlled chaos that will be familiar to fans of Paracletus. “Fiery Serpents”, “Scorpions & Drought”, “Sand”, and “Abrasive Swirling Murk” are sonically dense and swarming with frantic activity. Much of the time, especially on a first listen, they convey the sense that each of the instrumental performers is off making music in his own world, or better yet in a web of worlds with intersecting planes — because everything periodically does come together in jolting bursts of unifying rhythm. Even the cracked, croaking vocals appear to come and go unpredictably, chanting their malignant scree.
The more you listen to these songs, though, the more you discover that the impression of surface-level chaos is deceptive. It seems chaotic because it’s fast, discordant, complex, rhythmically dynamic, and lit up by technical pyrotechnics — but it’s highly organized, the planned expression of an artistic vision.
Much of the chaotic feel is attributable to the absolutely off-the-hook drumming (which I assume is the result of programming, since I’ve seen no identification of a drummer in connection with Drought). It verges on stealing the show all the way through the middle body of the EP, changing patterns and styles unpredictably, and usually connected only in non-linear ways to what’s happening in the rest of the music.
Many bands claim to be unorthodox, but in many cases that label is simply a cover for a wreckage of noise. Deathspell Omega genuinely are unorthodox — they don’t even follow the orthodoxies of the black metal scene from which they originated. But their avant garde sensibilities are backed by serious talent, both in song construction and in performance. Drought is a fantastic, too-short collection of music which proves that again, in spades.
Drought is out now on Season of Mist. Someone uploaded the entire EP onto YouTube as a single file, and you can find that here. And this is an authorized stream of “Abrasive Swirling Murk”, which Season of Mist is offering for free download here: