Sunday, September 30, 2012

Overmars' Affliction, Endocrine... Vertigo

There are certain phases, stages, and events in a metal listener's journey that will manage to forever fixate themselves deep in his mind... that he will remember for the rest of his life. The first time he was introduced to metal. The first time he heard his favorite band. The first time he heard his favorite album. Certain songs. Times he heard certain songs with certain people and shared a special moment with them. Certain songs or albums or bands he looked to for guidance, inspiration, or motivation during times when he had nowhere else to look. Times he was introduced to a new genre that hadn't before manifested itself in his mind, because he was completely unaware it even existed.

For me, this is the album that altered the standards by which I evaluate metal. It's the metal album that makes all the others slightly worse.

Why is that? To be honest, it's hard to put into words. This album doesn't scream musicianship. There are no really impressive solos on it. The drumming isn't overly impressive (but it is experimental). It's not technical. At first listen, in fact, thoughts are more along the lines of "what the hell am I listening to?," "this sounds like garbage," and "why would I listen to the rest of this album?" At least that's what I thought when I first listened to Obsolete. Granted, that was a few years ago, before I became really familiar with doom and sludge. But I still feel that to some extent. Every time I start the album a part of me wonders what it is about it that makes me want to continue listening to it. I also know that since I realized what a truly special record this is, I've held all other records in comparison to it. Hoping they'll be as unique, as diverse, as avant garde as this one. A few years later I've been tearing through metal albums left and right, and I haven't found one half as any of those things as this one.

Maybe it's the unorthodoxy. The non conventional - utterly non conventional - free approach Overmars takes towards crafting its songs. Maybe it's the fact that when "This is Rape" starts I swear I hear a doom breakdown (is that even possible?). Maybe it's the combination of influences and the diversity of soundscapes. Down-tuned sludge mixed with hardcore, post-metal, and industrial. But the real reason is, simply, this album is the most creepy, disturbing, impenetrable, oppressive work of art I've ever heard. The only other album that rivals it in that regard is Dragged Into Sunlight's Hatred For Mankind. It evokes feelings in me I can't even describe. "Obsolete" and "This is Rape" are barrages of oppressive musical assault that stomp your ****ing face in with a size 12 steel-toed boot. They're not without their twinges of down time, though. Such as the 4:50 mark in "This is Rape." The oppression momentarily subsides but something even more unsettling takes its place. A simple guitar melody, mid-tempo drumming and some electronic/industrial effects. It's not even depressing, it's just… strange, unsettling, something Trent Reznor would come up with. And that continues on until around 7:17, when a dirty distorted bass comes back in, balls-to-the-wall sludge resumes, and a sound sample becomes audible in the background which is impossible to really make out. And then, just when you're starting to feel that this terrible record is going to be nothing but pure ugliness and filth...

Destroy all dreamers who dream of the same thing more than once...

A most unexpected twist and alteration in sound. Suddenly all heaviness vanishes and what becomes audible is a gorgeous soft interlude with clean vocals that puts your mind at rest after the trauma of the first two tracks. "Destroy All Dreamers pt. I" leads perfectly into "Deux Measures de Solitude," which starts off softly with a catchy guitar hook and slowly, over the course of four or so minutes, builds through repetition and subtle additions into another heavy crushing assault. And voilá!, we're back to where "This is Rape" left off.

But the next track is truly one of the shining moments on this record. "Büccolision / (bis) The Mistaken One pt. II (Geography is Just a Symptom)" is one of the most scary, horrific, distressing songs ever. It's not sludge. It's not hardcore. It's not anything. It starts out with a slow piano passage, then we hear some slow sporadic guitar strumming, then a heavy distorted bass chord. The foundation for the entire song is piano. Overmars' contrasting of the beautiful with the dark is an exercise of expertise… they take what's traditionally considered a beautiful instrument and play it under a horrific display of chanting and screaming. A long ritualistic-like chant is spoken in French while - what sounds like - a helpless victim being the unfortunate subject in some horrific experiment or ritual is tortured and screams pleading cries of agony. The chanting and the screaming are just dubbed over each other. The chant is actually in French.

Standing in the shadow of this obtuse-angled mirror's reflection
Harvesting the seeds of our prettiest hangman, young girls in the prime of life galore
In our dreams of languor and love, on our lips, softly without the torturous sensation of filthiness
Optic through the hole where the iris huddles
Stares at its victim with heartbroken eyes, drunk with the stale smell of an undesirable strangeness
Of exocrine glands and unhealthy exudations
Which cherishes it aloud and carries it in its womb

The "vocalist," playing the part of the poor girl, who could easily be pictured as a victim tied to a stake in some sort of hellish ritual, is utterly convincing. Perhaps inspired by thoughts of being cut, stabbed and raped (or worse), the atmosphere her performance gives this song is unmatched on this album. This track personifies utter desperation, hopelessness, and depravity. The piano continues throughout, there are occasional distorted guitar chords, a rare strum of a distorted bass, and whatever else that isn't easily recognizable. It reaches a heart-pounding climax and it's assumed she's finally been finished off by her tormentor, bringing an end to her suffering. And then, it all fades out, and into...

Destroy all dreamers who don’t fondly kiss his lips and don’t embrace him...

"A Spermwhale's Quest" features Marion, the lead female vocalist, in what seems to be a song about drowning. Be what the writers intended as it may, imagery consists of a girl who has immersed herself underwater, and in doing so has found herself a little too deep, and possibly "gazing into the eyes of the reaper." Pressure is the only thing down here, reminding me how my strength is relative. There is no sound down here except for my heartbeat, pounding in my head. Static noise is used in this track throughout. The lyrics on this album are all around fantastic. As are all three vocalists. The vocals have incredible range - the prolonged death growls, the clean mid-ranged, the soft murmurs, and those that can't be described (like on "Destroy All Dreamers pt. II" and "From Love to Exhausting - the Story of This Intangible Thing Between Us"). There are recordings/sound samples thrown in randomly further back in the mix. You might find yourself realizing there's a woman screaming after she's already been at it twenty seconds. There's so much to listen for and concentrate on... it's that kind of record.

Destroy all dreamers who forget he holds us in his arms every morning...

The "Destroy All Dreamers" tracks (there are five of them throughout) are the most well executed interludes I've heard on any album that features interludes and makes them prominent. They don't detract from the album. They don't cost it momentum. They give some air to what could have been a very suffocating and linear record. Reminiscent of a handful of post-rock bands, albeit darker, they're the beauty in Overmars' continuous effort to balance the beauty and the ugliness. They also provide a running theme - something to come back to. Something for the listener to fasten onto and gain familiarity with. They are all simple, repetitive guitar melodies with soft soothing vocals - sometimes dual vocals. According to the band, the lyrics in these five tracks are a call against apathy. To dream is beautiful, but to live our dreams is much more beautiful. Stop dreaming, start acting, and let's re-appropriate our lives. And they use a metaphor to illustrate this with baby birds. Daily blood tastes so sweet in our awaken mouths. Even though technically birds don't have lips or arms, and both parent birds raise their young, the idea is that a father bird takes care of his offspring, and they should be thankful for that, because they wouldn't survive without him. He makes them strong and prepares them for the harsh world they'll eventually be cast into. It's a message not to be apathetic. Show gratitude and thankfulness to the people who take care of you. Don't take it for granted. These five songs are a gorgeous conveyance of that. And they're just as critical a component to this record as the long, violent, inundating onslaughts of doom.

"En Memoire des Faibles qui Ont Survecu a Darwin" and "From Love to Exhausting - The Story of This Intangible Thing Between Us" are respectively 13:01 and 9:24 in length, and monoliths of post-metal sludgy doomy goodness. As mentioned, there's nothing technical and nothing groundbreaking about these sludgefests. But they are Overmars' own. They are dense and difficult to digest, especially the former. "En Memoire des Faibles qui Ont Survecu a Darwin" is a heavy, chugging, crushing, overwhelming composition of magnificent artistic doom. At almost no point though is the chugging without some sense of melody. There are some very tasty riffs, and memorable bass lines here, and never underestimate Overmars' ability to spin things around and alter dynamics in a split second.

This album is dynamic not only in sound but in structure. It's diverse, and it's likely a lot of parts were improvisations. Overmars is experimental in nature. Attention is solicited until the end; you never know what you're going to be listening to next. Ideas are in abundance. This album shouldn't be recommend to those lacking familiarity with extreme metal, and specifically, sludge and doom. It's an exhausting experience, and immediately nearly indigestible. But with time, patience - a lot of patience - and willingness to let it grow on you, this can become one of the finest albums you've ever heard.

HIGHLIGHTS: "This is Rape," "Buccolision / (bis) The Mistaken One pt. II (Geography is Just a Symptom)," "A Spermwhale's Quest," "En Memoire des Faibles qui Ont Survecu a Darwin"

Originally written as a review for Sputnik Music:

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