(Andy Synn reviews the forthcoming EP by the UK’s De Profundis.)
De Profundis have always been one of the more… unique… bands on the UK metal scene. And that’s something that’s been both a blessing and a curse for the band, as their diverse and distinctive style of Progressive Extreme Metal has long been both instantly recognisable and yet frustratingly hard to pin down.
Over the years the band’s sound – doomy, progressive, blackened, deathly – has changed and mutated in a number of ways, yet their artful amalgamation of disparate influences – coupled to an always impressive, intricate instrumental flair – has always remained constant. Despite this, though, many people, myself included, have struggled to define or describe the band in any useful way, without simply resorting to an array of vague references to a multitude of other bands.
And trying to fully elaborate and elucidate precisely what it is that makes the band so special, without falling back on the crutch of these predictable, often ill-defined, comparisons, has been a problem for a while now.
But I can confidently say that Frequencies solves this problem with aplomb, and it does so without sacrificing any of the band’s carefully crafted identity or hard-won credibility.
In my (otherwise praiseworthy) review of the band’s last album The Emptiness Within, I made passing reference to the fact that, occasionally, it seemed like the band were being too clever for their own good. That by trying to be as “progressive” as possible, incorporating an ever-increasing panoply of sounds and influences, they often limited the ability of the listener to emotionally connect with the music.
Not so here.
On Frequencies the songs are shorter, sharper, more impactful, and capable of cutting right to the quick without losing those nuances and subtleties that have always informed and underpinned the band’s tense melding of raging ferocity and progressive ambition. One need only look to their razor-sharp cover of the Death classic “Crystal Mountain” to understand something about this new approach they’ve chosen, one that’s far more focussed on looking inward, rather than outward, for inspiration.
It certainly signifies a change for the band — not a drastic one, but an important one all the same. And it’s one that suits them perfectly.
Don’t think of this as a case of “selling out” or “dumbing down” their sound though – rather it’s a conscious and necessary step in the band’s evolution, one of careful refinement and streamlining. The Black and Doom influences have been pared back quite significantly, allowing the band’s deathlier and more progressive inclinations more room to breathe, to expand, to explore.
Frequencies sounds, in no uncertain terms, like a band clearly and confidently playing to their strengths in a manner that’s simultaneously fresh and familiar, one that’s far more capable of making that all-important initial impact on the listener, without sacrificing an iota of primal passion or challenging complexity.
I have to stress that this isn’t a complete quantum shift in sound or style for the band. Far from it. In amongst the coiled melodies and sinuous bass lines of “A Strange Awakening” there are still a few moments – a stuttering blast-beat here, a brooding doom riff there – that recall the band’s primeval form, yet these moments are far outweighed by the band’s new-found sense of focus and introverted intensity.
One unforeseen benefit of these changes is that the vocals – previously a sticking point for some listeners – now possess much more punch and visceral power, adding both a welcome taste of aggression and some particularly bestial hooks, particularly in the ravenous, ominous growls punctuating the slippery melodies and pummelling percussion of “Illumination”.
Whereas on previous releases the vocals often felt short-changed and out matched by the enigmatic prowess of the band’s music, on Frequencies they’ve really found their place – front and centre, proud and confident, sharp and viscerally venomous.
There’s also a much better balance between instant impact and subtle nuance on this EP, with each riff – from swaggering stomp to blazing fretboard flamethrower – pulsating with its own sense of life and vigour.
A song like “Singularity”, all serpentine rhythmic shifts and coiled, muscular heaviness, is built around its riffs, each one as memorable and catchy as the last. To this foundation is added a thrilling sequence of scintillating solos, undulating bass-lines, and bruising, bombastic drums, each added ingredient building the song up into something truly spectacular, something that demands your attention immediately, yet grows more and more rewarding as time goes by, excavating and exposing new layers of subtlety and intelligence with every listen.
Where The Emptiness Within certainly hinted at the developments found here, ultimately Frequencies really does represent a major leap forward for De Profundis.
The constraints of the EP format serve not to limit but to focus the band, forcing them to distil their sound down to its most elemental form, sharpening their already impressive instrumental and compositional skills with a renewed clarity of vision and, in doing so, coming ever closer to fulfilling their significant promise and potential.
Intricate, introverted, and incredibly impressive, Frequencies is the sound of a band taking a long hard look at themselves… and liking what they see.
Frequencies will be released for free download on June 19. The band have already made the song “Illumination” available for free download on Soundcloud, via the following link. Stream that song plus “A Strange Awakening” below.