If someone were to tell you that one of the best, most original doom albums of 2013 would be coming your way as a debut release from a band in Siberian Russia, you might be understandably skeptical. But that’s what I’m telling you, in no uncertain terms. Both massively crushing and cosmically ethereal, the first album by Station Dysthymia is a multifaceted gem that no self-respecting fan of doom should miss.
The album’s name is a mouthful, but one that should resonate with fans of classic science fiction: Overhead, Without Any Fuss, The Stars Were Going Out. That’s the last line of The Nine Billion Names of God, by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, one of the most honored and widely read short stories in the genre. It wasn’t chosen as the album’s title arbitrarily. Both in the way the album sounds and in the concepts that inspired the music, Overhead can be thought of as funeral-doom-goes-into-space, which is part of what makes it such a surprising and satisfying discovery.
The music can easily be appreciated without knowing the back story, but there is an undeniable connection between the underlying concepts and what you will hear. Inspired by the writing of not only Clarke but also such luminaries as Isaac Asimov and Stanislaw Lem, the band have tried to capture in their music a tale of humanity’s gradual (and perhaps inevitable) self-destruction, smothering itself in the cradle of limitless petty consumerism in the here and now, while turning away from a future life among the planets and ultimately the stars. That heartbreaking dichotomy between the dead-end road we’re on and the path not taken is at the core of the album’s atmospherics.
Grand concepts and big ideas indeed, but the music is huge, too.
Overhead consists of only four songs, but that’s like saying the Grand Canyon is only a ravine. The opening track, “A Concrete Wall”, is almost 35 minutes long, and the second one (“Ichor”) lasts more than 18 minutes. Both of the last two songs — “Starlit – A Rude Awakening” and “Starlit – We Rest At Last” — top 9 minutes. When a band starts an album with its longest song, particularly one that’s longer than most metal albums in their entirety, you know that playing it safe isn’t on the agenda. And fear not — Station Dysthymia fully justify the mega-length of these songs: They’re all transfixing.
Overhead is definitely part of the funeral doom tradition. The pacing is almost always slow, at times glacial. And much of the time it’s massively pulverizing. The riffs, and even individual notes, are titanically heavy and distorted, the sounds lingering in waves of groaning feedback, creating a sensation of mountains collapsing into a deep abyss or planet-sized asteroids being sucked inexorably into a gargantuan gravity well. The drum strikes hit like tombstone-sized mallets against granite boulders. The cavernous, growled vocals roar heartlessly.
Roughly the last third of “A Concrete Wall” is about as physically convulsing and memorably crushing as anything I’ve heard all year. Colossal bass and guitar riffs pound in a repeating motif, over and over again, like a skyscraper-sized battering ram slamming against the sheer face of a mountain. But that’s just the foundation for a squall of harrowing noise and ghastly shrieks (courtesy of guest vocalists M. Hater and I. Stellarghost from Russia’s Abstract Spirit) that herald the end of times.
However, this palpably physical, skull-caving aspect of the music is only half of the dichotomy mentioned earlier. Interwoven with it are otherworldly elements, sounds that conjure up sensations of drifting incorporeally through the ether or surfing the space lanes in the glow of stars being born. Ethereal guitar leads, pulsating electronic tones, and shimmering ambient sounds come and go, opening windows into the cosmos, as if to remind the listener that there are worlds other than our own and futures other than the doomed one we are constructing in our ignorance.
You hear the beautiful, melancholy guitar melodies that surface in the two “Starlit” tracks — music suffused with sadness and loss, surrounded by immense chords and catastrophic drum blasts — and it leaves the listener with a question: Is this solely the sound of resignation and grief over what might have been, or is there a slight hint of hopefulness in those sublime notes, a suggestion that it may not be too late after all?
Overhead was mixed and mastered at Priory Recording in England by Greg Chandler of Esoteric, who knows a thing or two about doom. The album has just become available for download at Bandcamp for the bargain price of $3 (or more, if you wish). The download comes with a PDF version of the album booklet, designed by The Secret Door. CD versions of the album are available from Solitude Productions via this link:
Band links are below, followed by a stream of the album. Get lost in it.
(and a big thank-you to Kim Kelly for turning me onto this album!)