Deathspell Omega – Drought

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Bands of all stripes crave publicity. Deathspell Omega seemingly does not. Their new EP Drought dropped last Friday with remarkably little fanfare, given DsO’s prominent place in the metal world. No breathless pre-release reviews. No full-album streams. No tell-all interviews. No tour.

Such secrecy is de rigeur for DsO. The band has made a point of shunning the press. Their lineup is (mostly) secret, and you can count the number of interviews they’ve granted in the last decade on one hand. Those interviews focus on their contorted version of theistic Satanism.

It’s hard not to interpret this reticence strategically. Deathspell Omega’s refusal to speak outside of their music strikes me as an unusual but effective PR tactic. Their reputation has certainly benefited from it. If the band was as disinterested in the public as they claim, they would not likely be releasing music through Season of Mist.

DsO draws similar benefits from their “Orthodox Satanism” theology, which the band privileges even above music. Fans sift through mazelike polyglot lyrics obsessively, trying to locate the center and boundaries of Deathspell Omega’s religious world. I can only imagine the pompous glee with which the band members regard these efforts.

Such exercises hold no appeal for me. I don’t doubt the sincerity of DsO’s expression of faith, but rather its coherence. This band, like Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development, gets off on withholding. Its members have not equipped their audience with the tools required to untangle their message, if they even fully understand that message themselves.

I am reminded of Jon Ronson’s nonfiction book The Psychopath Test. The book tells of an unbalanced Swedish scientist named Petter Nortlund, who anonymously mailed a puzzle to an assortment of academics and journalists. The puzzle maddened its recipients, who could not solve it despite their substantial collective reasoning powers. Ronson eventually determined that nobody could solve it because it was unsolvable; Nortlund designed it solely to frustrate the famously smart.

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Even this idea—an unsolvable puzzle—bears significance for religious faith. I’m sure DsO would love for me to go plunging down the rabbit hole again.

But my interest in Deathspell Omega depends almost entirely on their music itself, which I feel can be appreciated independently of their philosophical trappings. The band considers music and lyrics inseparable, and would probably accuse me of listening for “the wrong reasons”. Fortunately, creators do not have the final say over the way others experience their creations. I may be missing out, but DsO’s sound is rich enough to satisfy nonetheless.

In the AJNA Offensive interview linked above, the band acknowledges that their pursuits might carry them away from black metal. Drought, like Paracletus before it, bears little resemblance to black metal in the ’90s sense. The production is clean and clear; the songs are complex but concise (unlike those found on DsO’s other EPs); blastbeats cause bruises rather than reveries. No chanting or keyboards to be found.

Instead, Drought‘s three proper songs register as exceptionally twitchy technical death metal, played high on the fretboard and in standard tuning. (Deathspell Omega has noticeably influenced some death metal bands—see last year’s releases by Ulcerate and Baring Teeth, among others.) It’s hard to avoid the word “mathy” here—the band stutters like the Dillinger Escape Plan on “Swirling Abrasive Murk”.

When DsO throttles back, as on the instrumentals that bookend Drought, the effect becomes that of wiry progressive rock. I imagine Dysrhythmia jamming in the catacombs of Paris. As with Dysrhythmia, the bass guitar is the linchpin on these songs. I would welcome more such energetic bass work in death and black metal alike.

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Drought is complex, but earthy at its core. I feel it in my muscles, but it awakens no spiritual feelings. Given that Deathspell Omega play nominally liturgical music, this absence marks a failing of some sort. The band members would probably say that the failing is mine—that I am misinterpreting their work.

And perhaps I have. Given the band’s insistence on the importance of their lyrical content, I’m ignoring a lot of material. But given how much I’m enjoying Drought, I don’t really care. It’s a testament to the vibrancy of Deathspell Omega’s art that I can derive so much satisfaction even from an incorrect solution to their unsolvable puzzle.

— Doug Moore

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Deathspell Omega – Drought (complete)

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