The effect of listening to the new EP by the French black/death band Absolvtion is similar to what I imagine I’d feel if I turned a corner and found a cobra immediately at my feet, its head raised, its hood open wide, swaying, about to strike. I’d feel shock and fear mixed with repulsion, but I’d be transfixed, mesmerized by the terrible beauty of the thing, frozen in fascination.
Gallow’s Destiny exerts a similar mesmerizing attraction, a similar capacity to freeze you in your steps, and at the same time it’s unnerving and poisonous. It tends to blot out rational thought, paralyzing that part of your mind and then sinking its fangs deep.
The four tracks on the EP are more alike than they are different from each other. But the combined effect of them over more than 24 minutes isn’t monotony. In part that’s because within each song the band are continually changing the riffs, the tempos, and the rhythms of their diabolical sonic concoctions. In part it’s because they’ve achieved a high level of coherence in all the components that combine to bring their venomous visions to life.
The production of the sound provides demonic vibrancy and ominous power, an all-enveloping sound that grows more immersive as the minutes pass. By contrast to other bands branded with the black/death metal label, Absolvtion chose not to choke their music in distortion and soak it in murkiness. Overall, the clarity of the music gives it a sharp cutting edge, and the bone-crunching heaviness of the hum and throb of the bass lends it power, as does the sound of much of the riffing, which is often deeper and weightier than what we encounter in a lot of black metal.
To be sure, there’s distortion in the guitar tone — a tone (or combination of tones) that overall seems perfectly designed for these pestilential compositions — but it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the instruments or the voice, despite the dominance of tremolo picking throughout the music.
As for the riffs themselves, they’re very unsettling, to the point of becoming mentally destabilizing. The minor-key melodies are dismal and dire, and the chords seem to warp and writhe like a nest of vipers or chop the listener’s neck like an executioner’s ax. The music sounds lethally toxic and morbid, but it also erupts in livid frenzies, channeling sensations of harrowing derangement and sadistic cruelty. In its changing atmospherics, the EP creates feelings of looming menace, unhinged chaos, and horrid triumph.
The vocalist’s hollow, heartless, sepulchral roars (and the occasional blood-freezing shrieks that accompany explosions of violence) amplify the cold mercilessness of the music’s intensity, while the drummer’s shifting speeds and patterns are another vital ingredient in the band’s capacity to keep listeners on the edge of their seats throughout this oppressive but adrenaline-triggering trip.
It may seem paradoxical to say that music this diseased, disheartening, and disorienting is also mesmerizing, but it has that effect, too. The magnetic allure of these nightmare spells may be unexpected, but at least for this writer, it’s undeniable.
Experience the full stream of Gallow’s Destiny below. The EP will be released by Atavism Records on August 20.