Position | Momentum by CalligramRelease date: July 14, 2023
Label: Prosthetic Records
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As conventional wisdom goes, this is uncontroversial. However, on their latest album, London’s Calligram provide a test case for the argument that feelings of elation can be found amongst the doldrums of despair and suffering. With Position | Momentum, Calligram have blended some blistering, sporadicly hellish black metal with a distinct sense of hope and unexpected optimism.
However, that is not to suggest that the band has gone soft. Calligram have been consistently delivering a brutal combination of d-beat hardcore and chaotic black metal since their debut EP Demimonde in 2016, and cemented their signature sound in 2020 with the release of their first full-length The Eye is the First Circle. Furious yet thoughtful, it was highlight from that year, it provided a cathartic tonic for those struggling with an unreal reality of lockdowns and isolation.
For many of us, recent years have been grim, with death and suffering constantly headlining news bulletins and leaping from our phones, commanding our continual attention. Position | Momentum has clearly emerged from a particularly dark and dismal creative provenance. Taking the opener ‘Sui Dolore’ as a prime example, the ferocious, frenzied black metal riffs and thundering drums are punctuated by vocalist Matteo Rizzardo’s anguished, pained shrieks. There is an undercurrent of sadness to his voice, which continues into the equally frenetic ‘Frantumi in Itinere’.
However, less than halfway through the track, the rage and the fury reduce to a simmer and make way for some Alcest-esque diversions into muddy, despondent shoegaze-inspired riffing. By contrast, the calm acoustic guitars introducing ‘Eschilo’ soon give in to relentless blastbeats and tremolo-picked guitars, eventually culminating in some truly wretched and anguished vocals. There is a profound despondency to much of this record, belied by the sort of gloomy guitar chords Katatonia would produce these days.
Notwithstanding the above, there is a particular quality of brightness to this record. As crushing as the opening track may be, the upscale progression to the riffs in its latter half hints towards a certain freedom, an opening gap in the clouds through which light can cast away the darkness. This unexpected positivity shines through again with ‘Tebe’, a black metal track as brutal as anything else, but defined by an anachronistic feeling of hope. That said, any trace of levity is soon dashed by the jarring switch to sullen acoustic guitars and Rizzardo’s downward baritone.
In this sense, ‘Tebe’ could be regarded as a microcosm of the emotional dualism which defines this record. What follows is an evenhanded battle between the tempting forces of light and darkness: the beautiful ambient soundscape and synthesised horns of ‘Per Jamie’ call to mind the mid-career works of Dead Can Dance. At 7 minutes long, ‘Ostranenie’ is the longest and perhaps the most ambitious track on the record, with several movements from oppressive, ice-cold black metal to fist-pumping, energising thrash riffs which, again, evokes a sense of positivity.
This energy continues on ‘Ex-Sistere’, culminating in some overtly mosh-friendly riffs and punchy group vocals. It serves as an effective injection of energy, staving off the lethargy which can arise from misery. Interestingly, the most exciting song has been left for the end. ‘Seminario Dieci’ effectively builds tension and momentum, reaching a beguiling crescendo before the post-punk baseline and Deafheaven guitar leads wind the track down, ending on a slightly underwhelming anti-resolution.
Despite this curious ending, Position | Momentum is a fantastic album in the post-Sunbather era of extreme music. It represents an evolution for the band, a further refinement of their signature blend of blackened d-beat with an emotional maturity seldom seen from the genre. There is a rawness to the album, although not solely in the traditional, ‘kvlt’ sense: through the combination of abrasive instrumentation and utterly pained vocals with more introspective, exploratory passages, Calligram have crafted a claustrophobic, unnerving but occasionally beautiful record.