Album Review: Dead To A Dying World - 'Elegy'

23 April 2019 | 4:07 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

Electric viola & distortion, anyone?

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This is one of those times that I’m so glad I’m subscribed to Profound Lore Records on Bandcamp. I’d first checked out Texas's Dead To A Dying World maybe four years ago, and I remember thinking their first album was a decent combination of post-metal and crust punk, just with violins and shit. As reductive as that statement may be, it’s not exactly wrong either, and I must say I quite liked it. Nevertheless, I’ve slept on Dead To A Dying World since way back when, so I was surprised yet curious to see them pop up on my Bandcamp list of new releases, like a person from your old hometown popping up on the news because they were in a drug bust.

It was a good thing too, because as new album 'Elegy' is a really solid combination of post-metal and crust punk, but with violins and shit (sound familiar?). But this time, there’s more black metal influences now, and it's how I like my black metal; long, depressing, and environmental AF. We’ll get to all that, but let’s get to an overview first.

'Elegy' is comprised of three long, 10+ minute post-metal anthems: ‘The Seer’s Embrace’, ‘Empty Hands, Hollow Hymns’, and ‘Of Moss and Stone’. These are all interlaced with three other short songs that are all under five minutes, ‘Syzygy’, ‘Vernal Equinox’, and ‘Hewn From Fallen Water’. For the purposes of structure, I’m going to cover some lyrics and the theme of the album first, because they’re honestly just more interesting. Speaking of, I found this general thematic outline for the record via YouTube:

"'Elegy', a foretelling of a post-human world, explores themes of loss, grief, and the dawn of a new ecology through the eyes of a lone wanderer. The last human grieves the end of humanity, reflecting on the temporal insignificance of man and the sixth extinction caused by the Anthropocene - the end of our kind brought about by our own hubris, greed, and desire for power over one another."

That outline piqued my interest very quickly. Besides maybe misinterpreting what “post-human” means (it means beyond humanity, not after humanity), I can get behind almost everything in that description. While we may avoid actually doing something as a society to stop climate change before it one day destroys the planet to a point that we can’t continue living on it, it’s a fun idea to explore in music and art. Much like our species in the oncoming ecological collapse, it will never get old.

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This idea is shown upfront from the get-go, with opening track, ‘Syzygy’. After some extensive research that comprised of me Googling the definition of a single word, I discovered that it means ‘a pair of connected or corresponding things’, in this case meaning humans and the environment. That's pretty fitting, as the lyrics are about considering your death, and about how the world will go through its normal processes and reduce you to dust, to fade away and be forgotten, and how the earth will have to adjust accordingly to our absence. Considering the word “sygyzy” is so obviously Eastern-European, I thought the song was going to be a Hungarian goulash recipe. And I was pleasantly surprised.

The first lyrics from the song are ‘Let the cold clear water/cleanse my spirit/ let the [torrent?] smooth my bones/to river stones’. The song goes on, with the lyrics generally detailing how the earth will continue going about its business long after us and everything will be fine in the long run. While I do hate comparing everything to Lovecraft these days, it is Lovecraftian in a way. It's about coming to terms with our own insignificance in face of the terrifyingly grander scheme of things.

Frankly, I couldn’t quite make out the lyrics for the other two cleaner songs, so I’m not going to attempt anything resembling an interpretation of what they may mean. Though, the title of ‘Vernal Equinox’ gives us some hints. As the vernal equinox is March 20-21, which is associated with the beginning of Spring in the US. It doesn’t take a wizard to relate this back to the above description; Spring, a new life cycle, rebirth. I don't need to spell it out anymore. Now, onto the tunes!

[caption id="attachment_1106959" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Dead To A Dying World, 2019. PC: Kathleen Kennedy.[/caption]

Honestly, the music here is less inherently interesting to me than the lyrics, but that’s because I study literature and anthropology, not something far more useful like music or creative arts (ha). But it’s also because the music in general is nothing that anyone reading hasn't heard before from other blackened artists. However, that absolutely doesn’t mean it’s bad or mediocre though. Frankly, if you’ve heard Lightbearer, then you know what you’re getting into with the majority of this album, musically. Imagine Lightbearer, but now throw some black metal influences on that bad boy, and you’ve got 'Elegy'.

The three longer pieces follow a similar structure. Breaking it down, it goes like this: a really thick and heavy introduction, a softer, cleaner and more dynamic middle-section; before returning for a larger, heavier ending. Of course, there’s room for variation within that template. ‘The Seer’s Embrace’ begins with a classic post-metal riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Isis record back in the day, whereas the beginnings of ‘Empty Hands, Hollow Hymns’ and ‘Of Moss and Stone’ could be mistaken for a pair of Sargeist tracks, with simple-but-effective black metal riffs and rasped vocals. Except for the sweet strings, of course.

The string instruments, which includes a viola and a cello at certain intervals, elevate 'Elegy' far beyond what it would be otherwise. Without the strings, the riffs on Elegy would almost feel flat and lifeless, but these added flavours really bring out the best in the album, punctuating the longer tracks and dominating the short ones, adding to an overall “epic” quality. As opposed to a lot of bands that use instruments like cellos and violins to seemingly add meat to the bones of boring clean sections and little else, DTADW have the strings better interlaced through all their songs, including heavier sections. And I’m a big fan of this! Because if you’re going to include a viola so centrally in your band, don’t bother with half measures, you might as well go whole yard.

The shorter tracks are what you’d expect: functioning as interludes more or less. They’re mostly there to lead in from one long to the next, setting the scene for what’s to soon come. And they’re all, at the very least, pretty good. Interlude tracks are sometimes the bane of my existence, because I feel like the majority don’t add much to an album, basically just being a waste of time. That’s not true of the short tracks on 'Elegy'! Not only do they have a different sound, almost being something I’d consider “slowcore”, but they also manage to sound as sizeable as the rest of the songs in a fraction of the time. The songs ‘Sygyzy’ and ‘Vernal Equinox’ sound a lot like the cleaner tracks on Cult Leader’s most recent album with strings thrown in for good measure.

To harp on those string elements again (shut up, that was funny), in the shorter tracks, they gel with the clean vocals extremely well to create such a grandiose atmosphere. A great example is ‘Vernal Equinox’, which features guest vocals from Jarboe, of Swans fame. Jarboe’s vocals, coupled with the ¾ time signature, makes the song feel like you’re in a ballroom, doing an extremely depressing waltz before the fall of man.

All that being said, there isn’t a passage on 'Elegy' that I felt absolutely floored upon hearing. Unlike LightbearerIsisNeurosis or any number of other notable post metal acts, I don’t think there’s one moment in particular that I can point to and say “yes, that, get it in me”. It’s all universally good while I’m listening to it, but there’s nothing truly jaw-dropping that would affect me emotionally. Despite DTADW seemingly having the potential to do so.

At least 'Elegy' isn’t as overindulgent as so much post rock and post metal can be. The songs move from movement to movement relatively quickly, without feeling rushed or lumbering; a hard line to walk in genres like this. As well as that, the LP itself doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is nice. It comes in at under 50 minutes, which is surprisingly restrained, given some post-rock and post-metal bands’ penchants for stuffing albums full of songs that last for more than 20 minutes. (Looking at you, 'Year of No Light'.)

'Elegy', whilst maybe lacking in the riff department a little, is at least an interesting album that manages to earn its “epic” description through a strong combination of post-metal, crust punk, black metal, and dynamic string arrangements. As a loose concept album of "post-human" and apocalyptic ideas, the theme of the LP really tickled my intellectual fancy. Although, I do wish that Dead To A Dying World had more memorable and emotional moments present, as that would've really elevated the album up musically; thus sticking with me longer.

1. Syzygy

2. The Seer's Embrace

3. Vernal Equinox

4. Empty Hands, Hollow Hymns

5. Hewn From Falling Water

6. Of Moss And Stone

'Elegy' is out now!