Review Summary: "...beyond the deceptive conflict between darkness and light"
Following Fas - Ite, Maledicti, Deathspell Omega was presented with a crossroads; continue to develop their sound on a downward spiral into an infinite pit of turgid, confusing and unparalleled darkness, or seek balance and palatability to their already monstrous sound. Although which direction they should have taken is entirely subjective, objectively they certainly chose the latter. Not only is this demonstrated by Fas -'s inspiring and surprisingly concise followup LP, Paracletus, but also the two EPs released between them, in 2008.
Of the two, the more subtle, arguably less intense and slightly weaker release is Mass Grave Aesthetics. Clocking in at a mere 20 minutes, this EP feels a hell of a lot longer than it actually is. One aspect of black metal that Deathspell Omega (DSO) have succeeded in more so than almost any band in the genre, is creating convincingly and justifiably evil albums. Like every piece released since Si Monumentum.., Mass Grave Aesthetics follows DSO's trend of pushing the limits of what black metal is capable of, intellectually, technically and atmospherically.
The release opens up with an utterly unsettling buzz, probably a recording of Lucifer's answering machine, probably recorded with another answering machine. From there it falls into a gloomy, slowly paced trot with humming guitars and the signature, almost inaudible use of orchestral elements to add to the animosity. However its not long until all hell breaks loose.
Ohh and like anything this band has released since Fas -, when it is said all hell breaks loose, it is quite a literal dictum. There's an incomparable quality to DSO's malevolence that is yet to be matched in the genre. With a combination of furiously placed, yet precise disharmonic chords and infernally complex drum patterns, one cannot help but notice that the band's theory is heavily rooted in jazz. All this layered beneath the crusty snarl of one of black metal's most enigmatic and intelligent lyricists:
The dimension of ethereal totalitarianism discloses itself
And takes possession of the quintessential human soul
Like a nail hammered through most tender flesh
Aeons separate the one whose eyes have seen through the night of the spirit
The king, the Lord of hosts, draped in terrifying magnificence
From the gleaming clot of trembling vermin
If a faith and a belief aren‚Äôt nurtured by the moist of blood
They do not grow, nor do they live
It is at the magnitude of daily murders, massacres and mass graves
That we do measure the propagation of our faith
Hearken and recognize, that hideous carrion
Legs in the air, like a whore displayed, indifferent to the last
A belly slick with lethal sweat and swollen with foul gas?
The band are masters of pure terror. With Mass Grave Aesthetics its more of the same, but there's a catch...
Anyone who listened to this EP's preceding full lengths will attest to their sheerly monolithic lengths whose inaccessibility is only furthered by their suffocating atmospheres. Within these behomothic pits of darkness, namely Fas -, it was easy to get lost amidst the mazes of dissonant riffs and blast patterns, and while the sound here is not all that different, it is certainly more concise and dare I say slightly catchier, only complemented by its manageable length.
...after the unrelenting onslaught of the opening tumult, the music transitions into an equally furious but irresistibly memorable and catchy riff, and as quickly as that glimmer of familiarity and hope appeared, its descends back into the cyclone. Yet before the confusion of DSO's black, hellish jungle of chaos becomes too much for the curious explorer, her density gives way to a clear opening, an eerie, ambient passage similar to the opening moments, but by circumstance exponentially darker but equally as relieving.
However, before the listener has a chance to get too comfortable, the mysterious French quartet break back into utter chaos. It should be noted that like all Deathspell releases, the songwriting is immaculate. While retaining elements of conceivability the band manages to craft songs of unparalleled complexity within the genre. Here we see a genius use of repetition and cycling between riffs and drum patterns already presented, and fresh ones as well; all executed as to further the EP's plot with subtle changes in the nuances of each. As the anarchy is again nigh-on breaking point a miraculously melodic groove lead by the bass harkens a sense of self-aware false hope before busting into the EP's climaxing ride back into the surging rapids of hell's bloodiest rivers.
As the album draws to a close that melody again reappears, serving to bring to the listeners back into a calm reprieve; the relief of death. And so, as the final, enervated breath is drawn, the gates of salvation appear in a burting ray of light, a choir of a million winged servants. But alas she was but an illusion, as the eyes reopen, salvation is lost, and the torment of silence ensues.
All in all Deathspell Omega's Mass Grave Aesthetics is one the band's best releases to date, combing the grand darkness of previous efforts while ever so subtly hinting at the professionalism and maturity of future releases. With a managable length and intelligent, captivating songwriting, this EP is a must have for any black metal fan. 2008's second best EP, next to its sibling release Chaining The Katechon, hands down.