Dirge by Raspail

Release date: November 11, 2016
Label: Sick Man Getting Sick Records

Concentrate, for I’m about to get complicated. Once upon a time there was a band called Another Day. They played death metal. They then morphed into Klimt 1918 and gradually lost the metal from their sound. Their albums from earlier in the 21st century were compared to U2, among other strident bands from the 1980s. Their most recent effort, Sentimentale Jugend, had a fuzzy, melancholic (and melodic, beneath the griminess) sound reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s early work – or that’s what I thought when I reviewed it. They reference art and literature in their music, as well as have a deep affinity for left-field music of the 1980s. Any connection that Klimt 1918 have to metal is swiftly knocked back.

So what does this bleak slice of doom called Dirge have to with the preceding history lesson? Well, the driving force behind Raspail is none other than Marco Soellner, one of the founding members of Klimt 1918. And this album, according to Soellner, “sucks away the last drops of metal from the sound of Klimt 1918”.

Listening to one a short while after the other (Sentimentale Jugend was released three weeks after Dirge) is intriguing. Because you hear that what should be two completely disparate pieces of music have similarities, or at least common attributes. Like the shimmering guitars in the background of ‘We Should Not Grieve’ marking out a similar comforting three-chord progression to many of the tracks on Sentimentale. Or the overall atmosphere, of melancholy but not necessarily sadness; as if the protagonist is taking great comfort, if not pleasure, in their doldrums.

Make no mistake, the harsh vocals, slow doom-speed tempo and sheets of guitars make this an intense listen.

But there are washes of atmospheric electronics applied liberally, accompanied by echoed guitars, such as in the lengthy and satisfyingly stark ‘Ver Sacrum’. It’s these additions which raise the music above the usual funereal black-tinged doom, which, let’s face it, can be an ordeal if you’re not completely in the mood. Soellner says that he visualises “Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples”, an apocalyptic work by the English painter Joseph Wright.

It is difficult to disagree with his judgement, as the songs have a bereft quality, if one also of towering earthly power. This is seldom more seen than in the title track, whose layers build and build, before the noise is washed away by a lonely, near-clean guitar accompanied by a spooky electronic effect. The noise returns, in a cacophonous fashion, before the familiar regal shatterings of guitar see out the rest of the song.

And the supposed oil-and-water nature of Klimt 1918 and Raspail interests Soellner – or perhaps riles him. He describes the differences between his main band and this one – whose debut took four years to make – as “two musical worlds no longer reconcilable”.

I can see where he is coming from. In this age of stratified genres and sub-genres it is easily for specialisation to descend into myopia. However he has proven with this album coming out so close to Klimt 1918’s most recent release – and therefore making it easy to juxtapose – that the two worlds are not as far apart as many may think.

The extended guitar drones amid the harsh atmospheres in Dirge draw on something other than metal – although in this era of post-whatever it is difficult to decipher what influences what. And the muse for Dirge, the band’s native Italy being “poised between beauty and ugliness”, according to Soellner could also be the jumping-off point for any number of quieter, more contemplative outfits, which Klimt 1918 can call themselves one of.

So is it any good? In short, yes. Dirge comes with high ideals and could have easily fallen between two stools – too atmospheric and arty for the doom crowd and too darn noisy for people seeking depth. But it doesn’t – it could easily keep both camps happy (I have no idea in actual fact; my ears can be subjected to anything as disparate as Endless Swarm, Monolord and Christy Moore on a given day, so I am not the best person to speak about adherence to genres).

And to those who refuse to be satisfied with a single type of music (and given that you are visiting Echoes and Dust, we presume you are) there is a lot to enjoy. Soellner may indeed have reconciled the irreconcilable.

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