Label: Eternal Death
Bandcamp stream: link
Dark music should, by its very nature, be challenging. The very phrase “dark music” implies things that are hidden or obscured. This is not pop music; not everything is out in the light, ready for easy assimilation, designed to be disposed of once the next fad comes along. Fatalism are a band that provide further evidence of this. Their début release, Mystery Of Death, pulls together a diverse set of influences that, when written down, may seem like they would produce an obvious, expected sound. In practice though, they create something very different to what I anticipated, full of darkness and, well, mystery.
The band’s Bandcamp page list those influences: Neurosis, Alcest, Negative Plane, Slowdive. Taken together, this seems like a recipe for something incredibly Zeitgeist-y, full of gentle shoegaze elements (that I am not, generally, a big fan of) mixed with harsher moments, that is very much en vogue recently in certain black metal circles. But whereas bands like Deafheaven and Alcest have increasingly moved towards the light – especially in the case of the later – Fatalism have taken things in the opposite direction, tapping in to a vein of darkness that seems anathema to the dreamy, hypnotic soundscapes of shoegaze, turning elements of the genre on its head to create something very dark, full of sounds and imagery that is only ever hinted at. The impression created is of witnessing some ritual through a daze, unsure if what you’re seeing is real or the result of your fevered imagination.
Sonically, it’s difficult to describe the sound of the record whilst doing it justice. From the first track “Isabelle”, guitars and vocals drenched in reverberation and echo make up the chief body of the sound, with occasional drums in the background. Like the vocals, they are placed at the back of the production, contributing greatly to the sense of things being hinted at and obscured, as do the bass-heavy keyboards on second track “Isolde”. At nine minutes long, it spends much of its duration pulling you in to its dark embrace, before a shrill, tremolo-picked guitar near the end adds a real sense of anxiety to proceedings.
The later half of the album is a less claustrophobic affair, but only marginally less so. The tools the band use to create their sound remain largely the same, though the keyboards are now lighter, and there’s a greater sense of space, with occasional washes of volume from the guitars creating contrast on “Isle”. Final track “Gloom Reaper” is the shortest on the EP, and also the most sedate and spacious; a relative calm after the storm that has preceded it.
Taken as a whole, what the band have done is take the very popular shoegaze sound that so many bands are trying to emulate, and combined it with a sense of darkness and claustrophobia. This is where the aforementioned Neurosis influence comes in. There’s no single point that can be pointed at and easily labelled “The Neurosis Bit” or is clearly influenced by that mighty band. Instead, they have taken the atmospheric influence of said band and used it to turn their shoegaze influences on their head, retreating further in to the darkness and creating something dark and ethereal, unlike anything I have heard before. It is not without faults – the spoken, echoing style of the vocal delivery is something I found to flirt with cliché at times – and it will may take many listens to fully digest and assess, but Mystery Of Death is a release that defies easy categorisation, and, with refinement, could be the start of something very special.