Yesterday I had ambitions to make the Shades of Black column a two-parter, but in a rare display of wisdom I didn’t call it that, because I wasn’t sure I would have time to finish the second part. But I did, even though I didn’t finish Part 2 in time to post it Sunday. Here it is now.
Yesterday’s first installment was devoted mainly to advance tracks from forthcoming records. Today’s just focuses on two recent albums.
Imperceptum is one of those bands I’ve been eagerly following and writing about for a long time, beginning with this Bremen-based project’s debut album Collapse of Existence, released in early 2016. Two EPs and four more albums have come out since then, the latest of which (until now) was 2020’s Entity of Undead Stars (reviewed here). Eight days ago we got another full-length, and you’ll find the stream below. I found it extraordinary.
The name of the new one is Chaos Pilgrimage, a substantial undertaking of four long songs, ranging in length from 13 minutes to almost 18 1/2. Songs of that length are par for the course in Imperceptum‘s releases. Also par for the course, reinforced in the new album, is the capacity of Imperceptum‘s creator Void not to allow a listener’s mind to wander as all those minutes pass — except where Void wants your mind to wander, in ordained ways to ordained places.
As before, the strength of Imperceptum‘s new music relies on contrasts — stunning contrasts. At the height of its power, one thinks that Void is focused on the immensity of the cold, frightening void that dominates the incomprehensible vastness of the ever-expanding universe. There the drums slowly boom and echo, titanic chords sizzle and thrum, and shrill sonic radiations expand outward in reverberating fevers and glimmers.
The visions thus conjured are ominous, daunting, and dangerous. They seem to remind us how tiny and insignificant our world is, and how trapped we are in tiny cycles of life and death, chained by unforgiving time to a brief, fleeting existence. The notion is underscored by upheavals in the music, when the drums thunder and blast, the low-frequency riffing crashes and convulses, and the highest tones seem to cry out in tortured despair. Void‘s gritty abyssal growls, ragged snarls, and wrenching howls are always spine-tingling, but in those episodes they seem even more soul-shaking than elsewhere.
But speaking of contrasts, Imperceptum also moves into passages of astonishing elegance and beauty, where the music rings in ethereal cascades that become spellbinding, or poignantly chimes in tones of loneliness and grief, or ascends to heights of towering and inspiring magnificence, and sometimes there you might feel sensations of yearning and even hope as well as wonder.
There’s a sure hand at work in the creation of these contrasts in decibels and moods, between abrasion and glistening clarity, a knowledge of when enough is enough and a time for changes has arrived — a time for world-ending cataclysm or a time for lonely introspection, a time for astonishing glory or a time for submergence in grief and gloom.
Once again, the label of “blackened funeral doom” is often adequate if not comprehensive — for example, it doesn’t really fit the panoramic post-rock and shoegaze ingredients in the stunning (and richly layered) closing track, which tugs hard on the heartstrings, even when it also becomes a heart-pounding avalanche. And once again Imperceptum has made a work in which it’s very easy to lose yourself, with neither an opportunity nor a desire to escape.
Well, Imperceptum‘s new album is a study in contrasts, but so is this column, because it now provides a very different kind of experience with Pleń‘s debut album Przechrzta, released 10 days ago by Old Temple on CD, cassette tape, and digital formats.
If Google Translate is to be trusted, the album’s title means “Convert”, accompanied by the band’s short statement “Przechrzta nadeszła” — “The conversion has come”. In addition to the title song, the album includes track titles that translate to “Storm”, “And let the bile flow through your fingers”, “Bringing fire”, “Swarm”, and “Promised Land”, plus a brief spoken-word intro track before the title song whose name seems to mean “embers” — like something that seeds of a fire.
Whether these names connect to form a concept, I don’t know (I didn’t yet have the Polish lyrics to translate when I wrote this), though one could interpret them as a progression from embers to a conversion of some sort, which then leads to trials and tribulations and finally the sought-for promised land as the reward. But if that’s the concept, it becomes clear it is a dream of madness.
Even with the first full song “Przechrzta” the band demonstrate a capacity for fire and fury, delivering dense, incendiary riffing, skull-rattling drumwork, and wild yells on the edge of a larynx coming apart in blood. The band also demonstrate a proclivity for switching things up in that same song, shifting to back-beats and dark, swaggering riffage as well as start-stop bursts of fretwork-venom and vocal-vitriol, intense waves of melody that seem to channel despair, and big booming grooves within clanging chords of agony.
If the song is meant immediately to create moods of severe distress, it succeeds in spades. Its scathing intensity and raw emotion are hallmarks of the other songs too. They too include raging up-front vocals that hold nothing back and scratchy but reverberative riffing that burns white hot but is as often bleak in its feeling as it is storming.
Punk beats and racing gallops surface here and there, along with a variety of martial beatings and plenty of rough-and-tumble fills, but in the most emotionally degraded passages they stalk and stagger. The bass is a heavy but usually subtle presence, though its nuanced throb is often a key ingredient that manages to survive even in the midst of storming by the other instruments.
As hinted above, at times Pleń double-down on the bleakness in the music, slowing the pace and letting the chords gloomily drag and claw or making the lead guitar sizzle in agony or chime in misery. There are also some ambient passages at the end of songs that sound even more emotionally ruinous. Pleń also use slashing riffage to mount moments of angry defiance, although even then there’s a feeling of desperation, a sense that no choice has been left but to fight, though the outcome looks grim.
The Bandcamp tags for the album include the words “nihilism” and “misanthropy”, and when you hear the album you’ll know those words aren’t empty references. Though the music proves to be multi-faceted and dynamic, it’s pretty unrelenting in its expressions of rage and hopelessness. If there’s a promised land that awaits, the music seems to say, it’s only delusional. But the album is so emotionally supercharged, and the riffs are so magnetic, that it’s well worth running this harrowing gauntlet.
As mentioned, the album is out now, and the band say that if you buy the digital version you also receive “photos from the Pleń session, a .pdf booklet and a high-resolution cover”.
P.S. After writing what you see above, I bought the digital album, which I should have done first because that .pdf booklet includes the Polish lyrics. It will take me some time to translate them.
P.P.S. Thanks to our old pal and erstwhile NCS writer KevinP for pointing me to this album.