WELCOME TO HELL: DEATHSPELL OMEGA’S BRILLIANT PARACLETUS
Boundaries weren’t made for bands like Deathspell Omega. That may sound like a phrase well-worn by cliché — theoretically as fresh and descriptive as “extreme peanut butter” — but it’s true for them. While I wouldn’t shy away from calling them black metal, I certainly understand why people would be wary to: only fragments of the Norwegian model remain. Though slapping “avant-garde” in front of metal can apply to anyone from Ulver to Mr. Bungle to motherfuckery experts Crotchduster, Deathspell Omega seem to embody it fully, harnessing the bizarre and esoteric in a way that’s unique, even in today’s Anything Goes environment. What stands out the most is the band’s reined chaos, simultaneously sounding mechanically precise and barely held together. Sure, they’re black metal. But can anything be black metal beyond them?
Much like Portal is to death metal, it’s been interesting to see Deathspell Omega riding on the genre’s event horizon. Starting off as a fairly typical frozen-meat-and-potatoes black metal collective, the band went off the deep end for 2004’s Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, introducing their trademark whirlwind of splintered guitars and relentless drums, as well as scorched earth moments of sickly calm and even Gregorian chant, all effectively howled over by vocalist Mikka Aspa. From there, they’ve never failed to impress, bringing their unconventional prowess to a few splits and EPS as well as an immensely challenging follow-up album (2007’s Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum). And Paracletus, their latest, shows they have no intention of letting up. It’s relatively (VERY relatively) stripped down and straightforward while also as daring and unpredictable as anything they’ve done post-Circumspice. Though intensely bizarre and remarkably dense, it still produces palatable tendrils that stand to attract and hold one’s attention. It’s as engrossing as it is revolting.
But whereas Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum was prone to long stretches of near (or occasionally complete) silence followed by brutality, Paracletus mainly stays in the forefront, providing only the occasional suffocating transitional track for relief. It’s full of moments that almost approach beauty that are still fat with sickness, thus all the more disturbing. Even the fractured arpeggio that opens “Abscission” has a strange melodicism to it; beneath it, however, are furious blastbeats, as if the band are forcing the ugly through its skin. There aren’t songs so much as fragments and movements, none adhering to any sort of structure but still sounding well-thought out. During parts where they are clearly just drums, guitars, dirty bass, and a vocalist, they sound enormous; so, when the occasional orchestral flourish makes an appearance — like at the respective ends of “Phosphene” and “Epiklesis II” — the band sound impossibly huge and menacing. But that can all change in a second’s time, as the drums seemingly-spontaneously shift into blasts, Hasjarl’s guitar is transformed from beautifully wounded to tense and sharp, and Aspa’s vocals shift from a moan or wail to a growl. The band play their cards incredibly close to their chest, and their threat to use their finest tool– their wall of churning, blackened noise– always looms heavy, even over the album’s softest moments. Paracletus being so deeply rooted in dread is its greatest asset.
The band’s mystery is their most considerable strength, though. They’re immensely private, with only a few of the band members’ names available and no photos, interviews, or shows to follow. In a time of Twitteral emotional oversharing and all-access privileges to bands for anyone with an internet connection, DsO’s distance from its audience is profound, making its main method of communication — its music — that much more significant. And Paracletus, perhaps the most accessible of the band’s golden era records, still manages to provide more questions than answers. It’s a violent album prone to spastic outbursts and nauseatingly uneasy calm. And its incredibly fascinating. Few records this assumedly uninviting manage to get this deep under your skin. If you’ve been following Deathspell Omega, though, that should come as no surprise. Making rigid tension and chaos appealing is what they do.
(4 ½ out of 5 horns)