I like the beats and I like the yelling: Tristwood, The Illusion of Dawn, Passeisme

Tristwood: Dystopia et Disturbia (18th June 2021. Originally released as a digital album in 2010)

The third album from this Austrian industrial-cum-grindcore project is receiving a physical release on CD in 2021. Along with previously unreleased early material from the band and the exclusive track ‘Stormcode’ comes the original album ‘Dystopia et Disturbia’. Never one to pass up the opportunity to re-tread the annuls of recent history for overlooked material, it’s worth stopping to consider the unique achievement of the album itself over a decade on.

I’ve labelled this as industrial/grindcore, but to avoid the vagaries of these tags, a more precise descriptor would be somewhere between Impaled Nazarene with more imagination and Anaal Nathrakh without their unfortunate penchant for Dragonforcing. Synth arpeggiators and sequencers set the backdrop to many of these tracks, acting as both a rhythmic pulse that the drums and guitars follow alongside the pronounced synthetic aesthetic that Tristwood are shooting for.

The drums, although adopting beats and patterns common to extreme metal, embody a machinelike precision and persistence, keeping the music grounded in production-line uniformity despite the greater percussive variation on display, by industrial music’s standards at least. Guitars stick tightly to these rhythmic dictates, eking out a persistent barrage of riffs that seem to work against their own aspirations toward variation. The guitar tone is meaty, utilising riffs from both a death and black metal tradition.

But often the melodic development is deliberately supressed for the sake of sticking within the same pitch range, with very limited variation in key or playing technique. This serves the oppressive nature of this music well. A relentless, pounding of machinery beats the listener into submission. This also means that the slightest break in the noise – a pause in the beat, a staccato chord breaking through the drone – is doubly impactful thanks to its greater contrast to the music that surrounds it.

Vocals predominantly stick to an aggressive death growl kept purposefully robotic in style. There are moments when Tristwood show a more human side however, the cavalcade of extreme metal vocalisations found on ‘The Black Room’ for instance, which ranges from guttural death growls to black metal howling and even some unexpected pig squeals. But such moments are but pockets when compared to the relentless, pulsing rhythms that make up the heart of this album through riffs that circle around repetitions despite their diversity and the creativity couched within each microcosm of sound. The same goes for the rock-solid drums, that carry dense moments of complexity within a homogenous and persistent percussive assault.

‘Dystopia et Disturbia’ remains as strong today as it did back in 2010, outclassing many contemporary releases for bravado and imagination whilst indulging in none of the cliches associated with extreme metal treatments of industrial music.

The Illusion of Dawn: Despair (28th May 2021)

When the world put itself on hold last year, many artists were forced to reassess their plans. Unfortunately there have already been many casualties along the way, the silver lining being a surge in introspective art, reaching deep into the bowels of the human condition. Equally promising have been those acts who were already on life support but have since taken the opportunity to reappraise their output to date, and once more offer it to an audience more captive than they’re ever likely to be, free from the distractions of gigging and rigid major label release cycles.

Such is the case for Wuhan’s The Illusion of Dawn. Who, since their self-titled debut back in 2012 have struggled to maintain an existence owing to frequent shifts in clientele. But 2021 sees them spring into life once again with the release of the compilation ‘Despair’, which pulls together their early material and their first demo ‘Recall the Nightmare’ (2008).

The music itself ranges from sentimental iterations of black metal with mournful, cold chord progressions and plodding drum beats through to Darkthrone circa ‘Under a Funeral Moon’, displaying malevolent tritone play and a dogged commitment to raw minimalism. Production is about as raw as they come, with a tinny but atmospheric guitar tone, sans bass, with percussion limited to snare and kick drum, any cymbals that may be present lose themselves in the static of the guitars. But the performance itself is a basic and serviceable metronome, sticking to the credo that for this style of raw, minimal black metal anything too elaborate in the percussive department is a detriment to the artwork taken as a whole.

Each tracks trades on exchanges between simple chord progressions, utilising the inertia of the guitar tone to layer up the cold, wintry atmosphere of each piece. The tempo remains relatively slow throughout, with blast-beats kept to a lackadaisical pace, serving to give this music the impression that it is functioning out of time, at a different pace and in a different space to our mundane lives.

The high pitched, passionate wail of the vocals invokes a strong feeling of solitude. A distant, mournful cry from the wilderness. The underlying static inherent in demo quality black metal such as this lends itself to music attempting to invoke snowy landscapes and the vastness of the natural world beyond human legislation. Blizzards ultimately function as a visual representation of the sound of static, the logical conclusion to the arms race of abrasion inherent in black metal timbres. When guitar leads do cut across the fog they are surprisingly grounded in familiar melodic forms, as if to offer the listener a lifeline of warmth in this otherwise icy musical experience.

Pulling together the differing approaches found in lo-fi black metal of a particularly cold bent, somehow soothing in its abrasion, The Illusion of Dawn offer up an understated character of their own despite the obvious references to the many scenes around the world that have adopted this style. Whether it’s the atonal, two chord riffs of Ildjarn or Paysage d’Hiver style pathos, The Illusion of Dawn are very much at home within these wintry landscapes of snow, rock, and wind.

Passeisme: Eminence (11th June 2021)

With the emergence of Ultra Silvum and Sühnopfer, Ungfell’s newfound mojo on their latest album ‘Es Grauet’, and now this slab of noise from the Russian outfit known as Passeisme, I’m calling it, we’re seeing a new wave of highly melodic riff based black metal. But unlike the first wave in the 90s from Sacramentum, Dawn, and Vinterland et al., the characters making up this new generation seem fixated on sonic density. Gone are the broad sweeping narratives of old, formed of elongated melodic threads. Today the aim is to create a rush of momentary micro riffs that sweep by in a blaze of speed and excitement. It’s not that one approach is inherently superior (although ‘Far Away from the Sun’ will remain a genre benchmark), it’s just that the modern approach is less obviously narrative in structure owing to its fixation on the present moment, dispensing of riffs as quickly as they are introduced. But as each track progresses there is a cumulative affect that could be called a narrative.

On their debut album ‘Eminence’, Passeisme’s approach is intense even by the standards of the genre. Everything is kept in a state of fraught high-drama. From the strained melodic intricacies inherent to the medieval inflections couched within riffs that are already choppy and challenging to the follow closely. To the oddly guttural, hardcore vocalisations that lend each piece an expressive tension, as if the messages conveyed are of the upmost urgency. To the drums, that offer a non-stop cavalcade of blast-beats and shifting fills, giving the impression that the very foundations of this music were built on a highly unstable fault line. The bass thunders away alongside the drums, adopting a slightly distorted tone which works well as an acting rhythm guitar. A necessary choice in this context given that both guitar lines stick to the higher end, weaving complex contrapuntal dances of tremolo picked riffs.

And that’s really what Passeisme offer for the majority ‘Eminence’. A taught, dense, fast-paced rush of musical information without let up. The guitar lines race through each moment, as if desperate to reach their cadence, with drums egging them on at every turn. Vocals bellow away above this cacophony. The choice to adopt a gruff, hardcore style may seem ill fitting on paper, but it serves to simultaneously heighten the intensity whilst keeping things grounded in a human vulnerability. This colouring of melodrama also fits the French decadence of the lyrical concepts well.

The music does eventually calm down with the penultimate track ‘Chant for Splendour’, a classical guitar piece that functions as a build into the finale of the album, the ten minute ‘Chant for Enlightenment’. This peace sees Passeisme flirt with the virtues of musical contrast, with the first half reaching for if anything higher levels of intensity and aggression than the preceding tracks, only to dispense with the frantic, melodic riffing with very little ceremony and breakout into classical guitar again. This in turn gives way to a slow metallic finale, essentially the same general approach as the bulk of the album but with the tempo slowed. From this vantage point we are offered a more detailed view of the architecture behind Passeisme’s riffing style.

All would be ideal were it not for the lack of integration. ‘Chant for Enlightenment’ is essentially three tracks stuck together, which in itself would not be a problem, but having broken the flow of galloping melodic black metal only to reintroduce it in a slower, more dramatic form feels tacked on. It may be a small blemish, but after the exhausting slog of the opening handful of tracks, one could be forgiven for feeling that these slower elements and new timbres would have served to bring additional dimensions to the rest of the album, and grant ‘Eminence’ a little more character in the process. All the same, this is above average in the field, and certainly one to add to the new wave of bands resurrecting melodic, riff-based black metal with a decidedly contemporary sheen despite the overt historicism of the conceptual material.

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