Sit down, shut up and hold on. From the highly prolific Japanese black metal act Sabbat, comes their crowning achievement. With four thrashy black metal full lengths already under their belt by 1996, the band decided that conventional 5 - 7 minute tracks weren't doing it for them anymore. Still, no one would suspect The Dwelling to be a single hour long track. You read right - running twelve seconds short of an hour, 'The Melody of Death Mask' is the sole song to grace this album, and arguably, is their finest.
Single track albums may not be so uncommon nowadays, but for 1996, this was unheard of. If Edge of Sanity's 'Crimson' was a high water mark of death metal (conveniently released in the same year), 'The Dwelling' is a high water mark of black metal. That and it's a whole twenty minutes longer then Crimson.
But anyway, enough of my fanboy gushing, what is it that makes this album deserving of classic status? Marrying thrashy black metal, progressive songwriting and a touch of oriental identity in the form of an hour long composition, The Melody of Death Mask tells a twisted tale of sorcery, bewitching, murder and the obsessions of a collector. That's all you should know of the narrative before entering the album. The vocals leap between whispers, shrieks and shouts, serving as the perfect delivery for the dark tale. There is a lot of depth that won't be picked up from the album on first listen, and it is well worth reading the lyrics separately.
The communication between the band members is top notch, the drums drive the album and are fluid, dynamic, but not showy for the sake of being showy. It is impossible for me to pull out a dull moment from this track, every solo, instrumental part and verse is memorable. It has climatic peaks and contemplative valleys, never straying too long in either to outstay its welcome. The album could be considered around twenty to thirty micro songs, but the way it has been melded together makes the transitions between them seamless. The composition progresses in such an assured way that most progressive rock bands would be jealous. Additionally, this smooth flow does not feel like pointless meandering, it’s a fiercely directed work to the end, and never loses its way in the instrumental parts. The use of keyboards is also praise worthy, as well as the brief appearance of piano. The melodic counterpoints are not lost in the track and it's all the more effective because of it. These instruments only add to the mysterious and tragic nature of the storyline and the composition would not be complete without them. Every aspect of the production complements the others perfectly.
While Sabbat's previous and later albums are also highly recommendable to black metal and thrash fans, The Dwelling stands out as their opus. The band performs with a kinetic energy and communication that is nothing short of brilliant for the full length of this album. If you believe hour long songs are pretentious and a waste of time, listen to this album just once and perhaps you will reconsider.