Valhom – Despair

I don’t think I’ve ever heard an album as fundamentally at war with itself as ‘Despair’ is. This is incredibly chaotic music, but not because there’s noisy production or constant sound or any other aspect that’s good for raising volume but not much else. Each track on this album is the sound of every single idea the band has ever had all attacking each other at once in musical form. Every aspect of this album is purely chaotic, from aesthetics to structure to instrumental performances. For the same reason, this is a very difficult album to get a really good mental grip on; honestly, I’m not even sure that this release totally makes sense to anyone but the musicians themselves. It is the very opposite of fun, easy to listen to music, ironically because Valhom uses moments of such a nature amidst the brackish chaos to make this album all the harsher and more unquantifiable for the listener.

There’s thrashy black metal, there’s suicidal black metal, melodic black metal, raw black metal, progressive black metal, US and Euro styles, essentially every type of black metal possible on this CD, and they’re all getting played at the same time throughout. No song can be relied upon to provide a stable atmosphere or musical concept. The few ‘accessible’ melodic sections appear seemingly at random in the compositions, but they’re destroyed rather abruptly in order to, of course, increase discomfort for the listener. It seems that this album is one entirely based off structure and seeing how far the paradigm of black metal can be pushed as far as how much pure content can be forced into each song. This is not extremely grating music in a normal way; there are numerous more popular artists who are infinitely rawer and harsher than this. However, I don’t think there are many who are uncomfortable in this specific way, with all the brutality conveyed purely through constant barrages of stylistic change.

The album frequently moves at a pace best described as ‘mind-bendingly fast’. A drum machine moves from definite strokes to just a perpetual hum of hyperspeed double bass, while tremolo riffs, though perfectly played, are reduced to near incoherency due to speed. Some melodic riffs become so blurring and bizarre as to have their very nature changed just by the tempo at which they’re played. The raspy vocals blend in with the guitar and don’t make an effort to distinguish themselves, apart from when the band decides to abruptly abandon speed in favor of a Bloodaxe-style lurching midpace, complete with audibly melodic riffing and a more definite structure apart from ‘go as quickly as possible from point A to point B’, which is what most of the album seems based on. There are times on this album where literally every instrument sounds synthetic, like on the beginning of ‘Embraced By The Fire’, where the combination of insane speed and ultra-clean and precise delivery gives everything a completely mechanical feel.

But despite how clean and meticulous the album generally is, sometimes the band will begin to thrash about arrhythmically, playing almost deliberately sloppily, as if they’re trying to confuse the listener as to their motives. This is the case with every element on this album: where one idea appears, you can be sure that its opposite will also be reflected, and likely in close proximity to it, and every possible shade between those two ideas will be explored as well. Of course, the fact that such an exchange will happen inside of ten seconds makes it less predictable than you’d think. Everything about this album is fast and technical and, above all, chaotic, obsessively preventing the listener from guessing what will come up next. While the band does have a unified style, a general sound that seems to be their own (incidentally, one that doesn’t quite fit the style of any other that I’ve heard). This is very much black metal’s answer to Evil Incarnate, a band who makes deliberately difficult to grasp death metal in what seems like a perpetual search for more and more abstract sound, although it’s communicated through conventional means.

This is another one of those albums that, from purely a listener’s perspective, is not very desirable at all. It’s confusing, chaotic, disorganized despite its precision, and incredibly difficult to listen to and understand fully. But I can’t imagine many other albums that are so great to recommend to people who love to study music and pick apart its intricacies. Decide which party you belong to and purchase accordingly.

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~ by noktorn on January 12, 2008.

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