Friday, 11 September 2009

Dormant - Beneath The Mighty Oak. 80/100.

There’s an inherent danger when bands begin to resemble one another in this generation. Everyone is so obsessed with being an individual and marking their territory in the music business, giving them rights to claim being the creator of a certain sound, or approach to doing things. So when one bands resembles another, or more than just one other band, they’re often ridiculed for not showing an aversion of respect towards their influences and inspirations. Personally speaking, I don’t necessarily think of it - sounding akin to another - as a bad thing. It is what it is. Everyone has a right to signal what it was that inspired them to create the music they themselves create and if that means sounding alike, then so be it. There is a huge difference between sounding like a carven copy of the original and demonstrating individual methods alongside possible inspirations. Dormant are a good example of this and although Todd Paulson demonstrates a number of possible influences upon his own music openly and vividly, he still manages to stamp his individuality upon this record by merging different styles - from neofolk to black metal - and creating a new flavour with textures that we may already be accustomed to. ‘Beneath The Mighty Oak’ even sounds like a reference to some of the notable influences on this record and by that I mean Agalloch, America’s answer to the definitive dark metal/folk hybrid.

Having seen Agalloch live earlier this year in London, I can safely say their efforts in the studio at merging unfamiliar hybrids of two diverse and uniquely contrasted styles comes across in full force in the flesh, perhaps more so than on record and although studio materials are often limited in the amount of presence a band can have on its audience, they do manage to ascertain a certain presence through powerful guitar structures that entertain a poignant sense of despair and melancholy. Dormant, although less equipped to do this job, do still manage to create a watered down effect of Agalloch’s style. The two bands are closely related, though Paulson manages to stay away from the “clone” tag convincingly by tackling other influences like early Sol Invictus materials and a darkened sense of folk through the wonderful electric acoustics and synths which really add a cultural texture to the melancholic production which takes influence from the darkest corners of the world, nature and the lonesome nights when the tattered and worn guitar strings are the only entity in life that can feel our harmonised pain. ‘Sighs’ is a particularly epic vision of this vibe that is generated by the cleaner side to Dormant. This is where the most reliable expressions of pain are collaborated with sparse electric acoustic moments and intense synths which draw the demons of the night closer to our naked bodies, wrapping their fragile arms cloaked in darkness around our tense skin as it feeds from our negative emotions.

The casual clean vocals are reminiscent of that from British post-black metal band Caïna. Fittingly so, Caïna’s Curtis-Brignell actually provides his sullen voice and tortured lyrical styling for the opening song ‘Black Ashes’, a song similar to that of ‘Sighs’, though the latter definitely has a more intense Agalloch inspired drive, especially in terms of the mid-paced guitars which solemnly sweep over our stricken souls. The Agalloch influence isn’t always apparent, though when it is felt, it is with an intense glow. The slower, less productive songs like ‘Black Ashes’ though, essentially, a neofolk burst of sombre passions, express the love for Agalloch’s earliest offerings such as ‘Pale Folklore’, a lot of the black metal material doesn’t strike me as Agalloch inspired. Then again, I don’t suppose it would. The mixture between the atmospheric neofolk sections and the harsher, repetitive black metal scopes is delivered rather more delicately than I had expected. The dark production tends to give the instrumentation a rawer feel than the material actually is, giving a masking effect that seems to draw the focus away from certain inabilities. The black metal side to things often seems a little rushed and a lot less focused.

The rasping vocals, repetition of the distorted guitars and lack of purpose within the atmospherics seem to drag the content down until these lacklustre mid to fast paced efforts are slowed down by a sense of realism and, once again, the better elements of the atmospherics, like the electric acoustics and synths, are there to deliver a message of well being within the soundscapes, showcasing the talents that are held within the dynamic mind of Paulson. Songs like ‘Ever More Darkening Earth’ are a good representation of when the black and neofolk contributors collide to almost devastating affects. The black metal elements seem to contradict the sly neofolk passages, which subtly weave in and around the incoherent distortion, alleviating much of the stress from the listener as he pleads for a better directed piece which puts more emphasis on the slower soundscapes, and more residual tides of the oceanic programming and synth passages instead of persistent blasts of indecipherable noise.

Neofolk has never been the top of my list for genres to explore, but I find myself being intrigued by bands who incorporate it into the black metal mindset. However, more so often than not, I find the neofolk elements are held back by the envious black metal instrumentation which constantly questions the need for such beauty within such intensely melancholic structures. This record definitely showcases that these two juxtaposed aspects of music can exist alongside each other, as ‘The Creation of Hell (Alli’s Song)’ shows with an immense personal beauty behind it (reminding me somewhat of Caïna’s wondrous effort, ‘Wormwood Over Albion’), but the best elements take more work at achieving and sustaining. The highlights of this record are definitely found within the neofolk sections; acoustics, clean vocals and synths, and although the black metal elements aren’t yet up to the standards of its better half, it sounds as if they could very well be one day in the near future. A strong debut with a lot of rewarding moments.

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