“Dipygus is a severe congenital deformity where the body axis forks left and right partway along the torso with the posterior end (pelvis and legs) duplicated.”
If nothing else, death metal fandom will expand your vocabulary. Following in goregrind’s proud tradition of obscure medical terminology and the lengthy samples popularised by Impetigo (and made absurd by Mortician), California’s Dipygus offer a slab of warm, anatomy themed death metal that outdoes both these predecessors for really existing music. Chromaticism and doomy, tritone enriched passages help to create a “theatre of terrors” vibe on ‘Bushmeat’, whereby it revels in its own repulsive themes and self-sustaining world of body horror. Its akin to watching a surreal circus of the macabre; we on the outside find terror in the violation of polite society’s norms, but for the purveyors of the music itself, all is celebration and joy.
The production is warm and rich. In actuality the guitar tone is relatively clean, lending the earthy, swampy atmosphere some solidity, allowing us to actually hear some…riffs? Think Autopsy’s ‘Severed Survival’ with rich bass undertones. Drums offer a solid pillow-punching impact, helping to solidify the rhythmic core of this music into something a bit more cohesive than a wet slap around the face. Vocals are distant and murky, any range or articulation is swamped in heavy handed reverb. This is largely to the music’s benefit, helping to open out the size of the mix, but it shuts off some avenues of vocal expression that would be afforded by a sharper tone.
As for the music itself, all is atonal bludgeoning tempered by idiosyncratic chromatic wanderings. Much like Sadistic Drive’s ‘Anthropophagy’, the aim is to unsettle the listener by introducing familiar passages of d-beat punk or tritone laden doom only to cut such conventions to pieces with bizarre licks and tempo changes dropped in at unexpected junctures. All is disorientation as the music celebrates its externally repulsive themes of body horror and creature features. That’s not to say that ‘Bushmeat’ never rests, there are plenty of moments when the music ruminates on a refrain well past its shelf-life, which – in the context of this restless shuffle of riff tessellation – creates more tension than it does release, see the title track for example.
In the realm of gore themed death metal, where putrid lyrical themes are a source of pride, and samples are liberally applied to further envelope the listener in the chosen vibe, Dipygus are certainly at the more interesting end. Goregrind proper is famous for its dearth of riffs and substance. But at the death metal end, where proceedings are kept sludgy but cohesive enough for the listener to recognise a substantive shape and direction to the music, some interesting musical tangents can be fleshed out. There’s a compelling push and pull to many of these songs, as tempos and key are cut to pieces and reassembled in freshly upsetting shapes and forms. It creates its own moral compass, utterly repulsive to polite society, and proceeds to violently revel in this carnival of horrors. Whether we join the fray or find ourselves detested, the music’s intent remains clear all the same.
To the shock of no one who has just read the title of this LP, Hopelessness are serving up some DSBM fit for an ever more depressive age. Despite being a close cousin of funeral doom, DSBM sticks to tempos just fast enough to fix it firmly in the black metal camp. The riffs to boot are made of up of loose, open chords that still never quite drop to the crushing drone common to most funeral doom. The atmosphere invokes more of a spiritual despondence than any physical malaise. But herein lies the main issue that many have with this genre: it tends to be all one-dimensional mood music with little substance to keep one’s attention.
If that’s your chief concern however, Hopelessness have got you covered. The riffs are certainly simple, made up of two or three chord patterns that undergo slight shifts as each piece progresses; in a manner similar to I Shalt Become or Xasthur. But these foundation stones are just that, a starting point upon which more subtle musical components are free to develop and augment as they please. A second, cleaner guitar tone accents or matches the distorted rhythm guitar with off-tune arpeggios or root notes; they operate both as a melodic facet of the music as well as driving the rhythm forward, rescuing the music from its own inertia. There are also gentle yet haunting synth tones soaring over the abrasion below. These help to open out the size of each piece, but also carve out simple counterpoints and complementary harmonies.
Drums stick to a funeral march of basic beats defined by a heavy snare sound and near constant cymbals filling out the static inherent in the guitar tone. They are accompanied by the reliable throb of the bass guitar as it slowly yet relentlessly marches along. Like the heartbeat of a captain going down with its ship, it knows its task just as it knows the futility of its accomplishment. There are faster moments such as on ‘Free Fall Into a Great Velvet Darkness’ which opens with blast-beats. The response from the melodic instrumentation to the increase in tempo is to simply deliver the same ideas with greater urgency in order to meet the demands of the faster pace. The fixation on maintaining not only the same general atmosphere but also very similar techniques regardless of tempo is far from monotonous however. If anything it adds an unsettling undertone to proceedings as we become aware of the music’s fixation on its purpose and willingness to carry this through without distraction.
In this setting, moments of calm, free of the distorted wash of rhythm guitars, or shifts in key and pitch, all take on new significance in Hopelessness’s warping of time’s passage. Vocals offer everything from ghostly cries to spoken word to guide us through the many sonic corridors of ‘Mournful and Restless Sound’. The album itself may operate with very familiar tools of the trade for DSBM, but with some small adjustments along the way, these can take on new meaning and offer a character all of their own; a cut above the usual crop of DSBM.
The Middle Ages in Europe certainly offer plenty of material for a budding black metal artist to go at. Beyond the obvious material upon which to draw lyrical inspiration are the epic blood feuds, protracted wars, and plagues that lend themselves to longform and dramatic compositional styles. There’s also the bouncy playfulness of pre-tonal music on which to draw inspiration, reaching its zenith in slick outfits such as Obsequiae, who apply these methods to a highly polished variant of melodic black metal. The full range of human experiences told at both a macro and micro level, combined with a meshing of old and new music theory rendered on very modern instrumentation opens up new vistas ripe for exploration not found on your standard meat ‘n’ veg black metal outfits.
Vermineux have nurtured yet another fresh interpretation grown out of this fertile soil with their second demo ‘1337’. I say demo, but it’s not a demo. The production – whilst lo-fi – will be more than palatable for hardened black metal ears, and the music itself reaches to fifty minutes in length. The mix is generally of a single-mic-hanging-from-the-ceiling-of-the-garage quality. As such everything is coated in reverb, suppressing the drums to nothing more than a wet clatter of cymbals played in recognisable rhythmic patterns. Guitars are soaked in reverb. But although this latter point is redundant in a description of a black metal album, it’s worth noting that Vermineux use this to their advantage. There’s a pronounced melancholia that flows through every note, resulting in a mix that seems to emanate from the obscure past, the finer details lost in the transmission to our modern setting. Vocals are a high-end black metal shriek, although perfectly fitting for the overall presentation they bring little to the table in terms of noteworthy artistry.
But this is no demo, in that it is literally not a demonstration of an idea but a fully fleshed out musical statement of epic black metal. One that works with many traditions within the form, and invokes myriad themes and moods along the way. There are elements of classic heavy metal via a Greek sense of melody, carrying both hope and mourning in equal measure. There are ponderous marching numbers such as ‘Crecy’ that come over as a refined medieval answer to the more barbaric assaults of Viking era Bathory or Graveland. There are straight up washes of tremolo picking where the melody tightens up into minimal note clusters so as not to clutter the mix with surplus information. There are plenty of ambient interludes and twelve string acoustic fills that help us transition from one chapter to the next over this epic saga.
In short, ‘1337’ functions as a comprehensive history of black metal styles, particularly those rooted in epic heavy metal with a clear narrative arc running through each piece. But this function is also a mere backdrop for the telling of these longform historical tales. The music calls back to various points in metal’s history, but also much further back to the music of the middle ages. The call and response of acoustic guitars with the whining sustain of the its electric counterpart, the colliding of traditionally ordered narrative structures with the chaos of blast-beats and clattering cymbals, all find their full expression on this “demo”. Vermineux have managed to achieve a far-reaching work that touches on many aspects of the human condition. This means that unlike many similar medieval orientated acts within metal, Vermineux actually transcend their own overt themes and raw methodology unpacked on ‘1337’, and find themselves reaching for a more universal artistic statement that resonates well beyond a romp through medieval history.