Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Review: Chainerdog - Journey to the Omega
I'll admit that it's immature and unreasonable, but for the most part I have trouble enjoying instrumental music. I don't know if my mindset is still too centered on traditional rock and hip-hop paradigms, but I find that more often than not I need some sort of lead voice to guide the music. It's a very rare occasion, especially in metal, that I find an instrumental (or primarily instrumental) project I truly enjoy: AOC is one. Chainerdog is the latest for me, an Italian one-man project which doesn't employ vocals and does more than most bands do with a voice. Really, the fact that it's instrumental seems almost meaningless- Chainerdog's writing is simply at such a level that it instantly exceeds nearly everything else in black metal, and the lack of vocals is a mere afterthought.
I'm always suspicious of anything that can be easily labeled 'technical black metal'; Chainerdog is one such band. The rhythms are clustered and unique, and the fretwork is clearly far above anything from the second wave. However, it never feels decadent or excessive, and the perpetually meandering dual guitar layers feel like an essential part of the music. Calling this 'black metal' is a sort of delicate matter- Chainerdog are definitely on the outside edge of the genre, even if they're still within its confines, as the riffs rarely form the sort of traditional melodies you'd associate with the style. The lead guitar pieces tend to derive more from Meshuggah in their highly textured, dissonant, wafting style, and the riffing itself seems to come more from bands like Enslaved or even more experimental acts than Darkthrone. What Chainerdog primarily sounds like to me, however, is what Deathspell Omega would sound like in a better world: dissonant, technical, somewhat chaotic and mystical, but with a core strength of riffcraft and songwriting far in excess of what those guys have ever done.
Black metal feels cold, right? It brings to mind blizzards, sheets of ice, viking warriors, dark ritual performed at night in the winter. Chainerdog doesn't feel like that, though; Chainerdog sounds like plowing through to the core of the earth and exploring lava veins and the strange rock formations underneath everything. It's extremely inhuman music (owing perhaps to the lack of vocals); at no point does it feel like Chainerdog is attempting to express battles, philosophy, or anything commonly associated with the human experience. Instead, he chooses a much more organic and perplexing experience. The strains of early Emperor can be found in some of the more obliquely melodic moments on this disc, but there's always corrupted by the other, stranger elements: the highly linear and swaying drum programming, the rumbling, lurking, propulsive bass guitar, and the constant switches between tempo and rhythm. Despite how chaotic this music can be, however, there's always a distinct thread, and it always feels like it's leading you down further through the rock tunnels towards some eternal, grim truth that's only horrific when viewed through the eyes of man.
There's a lot of stunning moments on this disc, but I'd say the greatest comes at the beginning of 'Distorted Wrench of the Soul', a track which seems to take one of those perfect, climactic moments in a funeral doom song and reinterpret it into black metal with incredible results. And this is the way the song opens- most artists would choose to sit on a moment of guitarwork that brilliant for something they felt was more crucial, but not Chainerdog, who appears to just ghost its way through songs, writing every single part in parallel until a logical stopping point has arrived. Funny enough, for a project where the instrumental quality is so crucial in leaving the guitars room to breathe, there is a single bonus track: a rough version of 'Cycle of Descent Into Nausea' which actually does feature vocals. They're not bad, but it almost seems inappropriate; in music so inhuman and unlike anything else, a human voice is an almost unwelcome visitor to the sort of restrained, drugged-out splendor of the rest of the release.
There's a ton to sink your teeth into here, and I think the primary reason I like it is that it seems to take a lot of the elements of modern hipster black metal- wandering, uncertain riffs, some measure of post-rock influence, unusual technicality and dissonance, a different aesthetic from usual- and extract from them all the pompousness and self-aware posturing of other bands who attempt the same thing. Chainerdog is a highly ambitious but also highly authentic project which I believe upholds the legacy of second wave black metal more than any Darkthrone clone could possibly hope to. Undoubtedly this release will receive no attention from a black metal scene more preoccupied with how its members appear to each other than truly great music, but here's to hoping a few of you read this and explore what's undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and beautiful black metal records in years.
Buy this album on Amazon