Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: Dissection - Storm of the Light's Bane

When I first got this album, I didn't pay it nearly enough attention. I think this was due to my background in hardcore punk, a subculture burdened with a lot of musical prejudices and inhibitions. With its polished production and flamboyant fretwork, Storm... struck me as something I couldn't quite take seriously. It didn't fit my notion of what truly grim, aggressive music should sound like. I was also a bit disappointed with the riffing. True to punk form, I virtually ignored the leads in favor of the rhythm parts, which I thought should be the "meat" of any heavy music. Many of these struck me as too standard. The most obvious example of this is the cliche thrash riff that begins "Night's Blood." Perhaps it poisoned my reception of the rest of the album? Over the last couple years Dissection grew on me, but I continued to compare them unfavorably with their fellow-travelers in the Swedish scene (see my True Black Metal, Part 2 post). Now I have seen the light, er, darkness.

Over the last couple weeks, I have played this album over and over and over again. I felt so stupid for neglecting it. In fact, I think Storm... has become one of my "go-to" black metal albums, on par with Gorgoroth's Under The Sign of Hell. I couldn't decide on a favorite song...each time I listened, I would hear new depth and power in every track. One day I'd go back and listen again to my old standard "Soulreaper," the next I'd be drooling over "Unhallowed" or "Retribution." What was I hearing, that I wasn't when I first listened ?

First, Dissection is grim as fuck and aggressive as all hell. Jon Nodtveidt's flair for melody only adds to the absolutely ripping feel of the music. And the fancy production doesn't detract from it. In fact, it's an essential part of the package. Every note is placed so carefully that the music would lose something if it wasn't as clear as a glacial lake. And, uh, the vocals dude. The vocals. There is nothing remotely accessible about this album, because Jon is standing athwart the gates and snarling like a three-headed hound.

Second, Dissection are brilliant riffwriters. The thing is, the rhythm parts aren't the center of the music, and attempting to treat them as such (as I did) will only make you miss the point. At its heart, Storm of the Light's Bane is about harmonized lead melodies, from the repetitive keening of "Where Dead Angels Lie" to the ecstatic frenzy of the chorus in "Soulreaper." As far as rhythm riffs go, Jon does indeed use a lot of standard patterns, but he gives us new versions of these riffs that are full of personality. They're also usually better than the originals. And you can't talk about Dissection's songwriting without talking about their gift for arrangement. In an album this riffy, it's a wonder the songs don't fall apart. Instead, each passage flows into the next one with the inexorability of fate. Through this deft sequencing Dissection multiply their riffpower and build grand narratives. Everything is going somewhere, and it's always exciting to hear what comes next.

Third, Dissection is easily confused with pretentious bands because they have a common ambition. The difference is that Dissection actually pull it off. They're not pretending to be shredmasters with the souls of Romantic composers, that's what they actually are. For Metallica, those florid lead embellishments and quasi-medieval acoustic interludes were moments of unintentional comic relief in the midst of bloated pop-thrash songs. For Dissection, they're part and parcel of a fully realized vision. Sure, Dissection write polished and sophisticated music. Sure, they completely disregard punk (read: modernist) hangups about "good taste." It doesn't make the music any less worth taking seriously.

Re-listening to Dissection reminded me that every album is a singular phenomenon, and you can never go into a listening experience simply hoping for the music to conform to your ideas of what it should be. Great music always confounds expectations and complicates assumptions. When I heard this for the first time, I was so wrapped up in my (newly formed) ideas about what black metal should be that I forgot to hear Dissection telling me what it is.


  1. One of the best reviews and observations I've seen in a while Pavel, people, especially metalheads (musicians and non-musicians) would do well to take your approach much, much more often. There's a lot of expression out there to be experienced and a lot of expectations to be challenged. Also, very good album, and very good band. I don't even mind 'Reinkaos' too much.

  2. I really enjoy reading this blog because for me it's a way of looking at extreme metal from a perspective that's basically opposite from my own perspective. My roots in extreme metal, and basically my interest in music in general, lie in pure heavy metal; I didn't come to extreme metal from a punk background or anything like that. For that reason Dissection has always been a very easy sell for me. I remember the first time I listened to this album. It clicked with me immediately. And I always thought Jon Nodtveidt was just a fucking incredible riff writer, despite the occasional slightly generic stuff that you mention.

    I have the same issue as you but from the opposite end of the spectrum. I can't get into a lot really stripped-down metal. Ildjarn is a perfect example. I've tried numerous times to listen to and appreciate this band, but I just can't do it. I try to accept it on its own terms, but it just ain't working for me. I almost get kind of angry that some people consider that stuff to be genius material. I can listen to prime Darkthrone material, but not that Ildjarn stuff. My God...

    I definitely respect you for being able to break out of your own perspective and appreciate Dissection.

  3. @jake: Thanks a lot dude! And yeah I actually love Reinkaos... it's great fist-pumping party metal. Should do a post on how underrated that album is...

  4. @Supreme: I always dig the thoughtful, articulate comments. It's pretty cool that you enjoy getting a different take on your favorite music, especially when so many internet denizens just want to read things that confirm the way they already think!

    It's funny, because my favorite BM has always been pretty close to Dissection in terms of its overall aesthetic and "feel." But you put your finger on the difference. Unlike Sorhin or whoever, Dissection were a HEAVY METAL band. And I think that's why it didn't immediately click for me.

    I dig Ildjarn, but it's definitely not music I just "throw on." If you want my advice on how to appreciate it, don't expect it to do any "metal" things. I'm not sure it even provides the same kind of kicks as most extreme metal... Maybe you've heard this all before, but it's supposed to be a kind of hyper-intense ambient music...much more like Burzum's spaciest stuff than any of the punk black metal it usually gets compared to.

  5. Excellent DISSECTION review.

    p.s. Ildjarn makes me really happy.