(In this post DGR reviews a resurrected album by Separatist from Hobart, Tasmania.)
This disc has become something of an obsession.
The way I discover music these days is an odd combination of factors, some of which can be more old-school grognard than others. I know I’ve sung the praises of last.fm many a time, despite the fact that it seems like everyone has jumped to Spotify or Pandora and, speaking of old-ass technology, I still find quite a few bands just surfing through the many concentric circles of bands on Facebook — a service I have been told many times is uncool and old these days. Often it’s a way to discover stuff that we may never have gotten press releases about, really good bands who may have no idea how PR works, or likewise, stuff that just never seems to cross our paths. Occasionally, we even discover smaller foreign bands just starting out, and sometimes you even pull off something like landing on the Facebook page of a melodeath/doom band hailing from Iran.
You can thank Psycroptic for this review though, because it was out of curiosity that I found myself bouncing from band to band, sating my “What the hell has _____ been up to?” sense as it struck me, and I saw a small shoutout to a band called Separatist on their page. We here at NCS seem to have had pretty good luck with bands from Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding areas as of late — especially those that lie on the death metal side of the spectrum, so the jump on my end was one easily performed.
However, what I found was not only a really good death metal band but also a small story that was part relic, part lost to time — a story of an album lost after a distressingly frequent issue that heavy metal bands seem to have, an issue known as a hard-drive crash, and a band long since broken up — everyone going their separate ways after the disc was lost, before one of the members — their vocalist — would attempt to resurrect the group and add a new chapter to a band that was a part of his life. Such is the story behind the recently released album Closure, by a now-solo musician hailing from Tasmania and going by the name Disho (name: Sam Dishington) and his group, Separatist.
A note before we begin. I’m sourcing a bunch of this information from an interview that Disho did with the website Son of Flies, a translation of which he then put on the Separatist Facebook page. In part I’m dwelling on this story because I don’t want to reduce too much of the history and in part because his descriptions of what happened within the confines of the discs Motionless and Closure are so insanely vivid that I feel they need to be shared, because they’re tailor-made to be fed directly into the metal vein in our bodies.
Separatist was a five-piece band, formed in Hobart, Tasmania, that released an album in 2008 known as The Motionless Apocalypse. The group would go on to record another disc that would eventually be lost to a hard-drive failure. In Disho’s words:
We stopped doing shows in 2010 to record our follow up album, at which stage we had a few more lineup changes. In 2011 we were almost finished the album, but we had a catastrophic hardware failure, the computer hard drive AND the backup hard drive failed at the same time, and we lost the recording. It was at this point that I decided I’d had enough and I left, and following that the band just stopped.
He would eventually re-record Motionless Apocalypse as an album called Motionless, as well as piece together and re-record the album Closure — which is what I put before you now. This is where the interview he did with Son Of Flies is great, because he describes the album Closure as follows:
– Lyrically, ‘Closure’ is a sequel to the first album, ‘The Motionless Apocalypse’, which was an adaptive retelling of the end-world prophecies in the biblical book of Revelation. ‘Closure’ tells the story of a group of people left behind after the ‘apocalypse’, and it follows them as they survive on a dead planet, turn to cannibalism in order to fend off starvation, create idols to worship and sacrifice to in the vain hope of being rescued, and then ultimately they offer themselves as a final burnt sacrifice to the ‘sky’ (the primary deity that they focus their attention on) in order to have release from the terror of the life that they are living. Then, in the final moments, the last of them reaches out to God, a faith that he had renounced in the past, and he dies at peace with himself and his God.
Hold for a moment whilst I freak out around my room because of how — even despite the somewhat happy ending (especially when considering some of the grim events that take place in the songs) — how goddamned well thought-out that concept for a disc sounds. It’s common subject matter, but the way it is described and elaborated upon within Closure is really in-depth. Then I’ll continue the review.
Closure, despite its relatively feel-good ending, is a violent-as-all-get-out disc. If there’s anything that the region from which Separatist hails has mastered, it’s the suffocating, all-encompassing weight, the cavernous and bass-heavy album mix — creating music that sounds like it was recorded at the ends of the Earth during the apocalypse — which fits well with the themes and concept of Closure and its predecessor Motionless. Ulcerate have mastered it, Portal have it, Ruins use it, The Amenta have it. If you play this intensely suffocating brand of death metal, it seems like this album mix and sound is common ground for you and bands such as those, and it still works just as well as it did when it was first used.
It’s a brutal sound in the most basic, meatheaded definition of the word “brutal”. If anything were to define the kind of sound Separatist found in the time that they were together and that carried over to what now comprises Closure, it’s a sort of controlled chaos. Listening to the disc is often like standing in a hurricane and having the wind rush by your head before you inevitably get hit in the face by a board flying down the street. Closure is not the sort of disc in which anything is definably catchy. I can’t point out a few songs and go, “Here, these are the ones with the sweet grooves that you should check out first.” Instead, Closure is the sort of disc that is best taken as a super-intense whole.
While there are moments across this album that can get someone’s head moving — moments of respite in an overwhelming whole — they are few and far between and buried beneath walls of blasts and quick-moving riffs. It’s very much the sort of drop-a-riff, switch-genre-at-the-drop-of-a-hat style of brutality, and all of it is in service to some really well-thought-out and descriptive lyrics, although you’ll struggle to understand much of it on the first go-round because Disho’s vocal style is super-low and growled, which adds to the bass-heavy sound that the disc has already.
If any of you have read NCS for a while, you’ll recognize the name of Oregon-based death metal group Arkhum. If I were to compare Disho’s vocal style to anyone’s, it would probably be that group’s vocalist, because they both have the super-low, orc-ish grunt down, though Separatist benefits from being a little bit cleaner and more easy to discern from the surrounding instruments. I cannot imagine a better voice to describe some of the monstrous events happening within the disc, though.
I don’t think any track truly better encapsulates the experience of listening to Closure than opening song “Monuments”. It begins with some sharp, stabbing breaths before the torrent begins. It’s like the album is telling you to take a few breaths and steel yourself before the whole wall comes crashing down in an apocalyptic havoc. The song moves through a variety of death metal genres, even fusing the tremolo-picked guitar playing of black metal into the mix as well. “Monuments” also incorporates some clean singing — only to have it sound like a lone voice being drowned out by the sheer chaos of everything surrounding it.
It’s a seven-minute tour de force that takes you through multiple slams and insane guitar sections, and by the time it’s done the idea of listening to more songs of similar length and structure can feel like a daunting task. However, the experience of it is so worth it, especially when you hit the truly slamming and chug-heavy segments of a song like “Omega” (represented by the Greek alphabet symbol) because that song is like being clubbed over the head before being thrown into a storm. If this is one of the songs that was lost when the hard drive crashed during recording, then “Omega” was clearly ahead of its time with some of its groove-heavy segments.
I could say this was the only song with stuff like that, but there’s so much of it spread throughout the whole disc (see following track “Deluge Arterial”, for example) that Closure quickly ascends into monolith status. Also, “Deluge Arterial” has one of the few intensely heavy and best brutal core-esque breakdowns I have heard in some time close to the end of the song. It makes me instantly turn into Cro-Magnon man for the thirty or so seconds that it takes up.
There is a small bit of a faith element to this album, as Sam makes no attempt to hide that he is a religious person, but in this case I think that knowledge contributes well to the overall thematic presence of the disc, as he paints a frightening and vivid picture of what life might be like at the ends of the Earth. Seriously, the way the human sacrifice segments are described on this album and the music backing them could make more established artists jealous.
If Closure was truly the lost disc that Separatist recorded, then goddamn, talk about a huge missed opportunity for the band, because the music on this album is just great and violent. Closure may well prove to be one of the first, serious ass-whoopings of 2014. Talk about a band that had really found a sound that would’ve had them sticking out amongst the current genre leaders, this album would’ve been right there. While right now the future of Separatist remains up to the discretion of Disho and whether he feels like pushing forward with this as a solo recording project beyond these first two discs, if any band had the potential for future releases based on the strength of a previous album, this would be such a case.
Closure is an impressive disc that for me has gone beyond just being an interest at the beginning and has bloomed almost into an obsession. I’ve made multiple run-throughs of this album just to follow along with the story being presented, with the vividness of each detail being brought to the forefront by the lyrics. I highly recommend you approach it in the same way, as the lyrics are provided as a part of the MP3s when you download them from Bandcamp; the lyrics will show up if you keep clicking the center button on an iPod for instance. It takes the disc beyond just a regular listen into an interactive experience, a small touch that goes far.
Closure is just pummeling though, so while each listen could imaginably wear you down over time, I still remain drawn to it. It has become one of my default go-tos for a quick adrenaline rush. It is one of those discs that takes its apocalyptic themes seriously, representing them not only in the lyrics but also in the sound, and that’s an impressive feat. The controlled chaos that makes up both of Separatist’s discs makes them almost instant recommendations. Closure and Motionless right now are available at the Separatist Bandcamp page for name your own price, meaning that you can grab this massive slab of death metal for absolutely free should you choose — and that is a huge good-will booster on the part of this project. But you may find yourself wanting to donate something because the money is going to be given to the A21 Campaign to support the war against Human Trafficking/Sex Slavery. So if you need a cause to champion, that one is right up there.
To put it more concisely after this long, rambling close-out, you need to check this disc out, especially if you’re looking for absolute punishment. This is one of those few albums that meets at the nexus of great music, great lyrics, and great imagery, and — fingers crossed — perhaps Separatist will continue, because both as a full band and now as a solo project it is one of those groups that are truly, truly on to something.