Review Summary: Gargantuan riffs and atmospheric heaviness for a trip through the aspects of death.
With Thanatology, Dead Elephant arrives a full step ahead in their own style, bringing new realms of stylistic differences coming from Doom and Ambient music to their Post-hardcore roots and for a surprise even classical Italian funeral songs. Thanatology, is album about death: the prefix greek “thanatos” by itself means death and by conclusion what we have here is somekind of musical study about this thematic. Of course, “death” is a current theme on heavy music since at least Black Sabbath. The entire genre called “death metal” is there for everyone to see how heaviness is a strong allied to the morbid thematic. So, what in Dead Elephant could be pointed as new on this so common theme?
A lot: the first song “Bardo Thodol” seems to be inspired by the centenary “Tibetan Book of the Dead” also called "Bardo Thodol” in native language, which is a funerary text of the Tibetan culture that describes several steps of the spirit after dying, such as flying around the city with flashes of memories and waiting the reincarnation. It together with the excerpts of old Italian funeral marches show a little about what kind of work we have here. But, let's focus on what really matters.
The sound: Dead Elephant manages to bring a slow and very heavy sound, in the first song “Bardo Thodol” the legacy of Doom Metal is very present and at the same time the vocals seems to be very post-hardcore oriented. It's very much screamed but sounds full and dense at the same time, there are chorus and composed lines of mantra phrases and clean vocals that seems like ritualistic intonations. The guitar riffs sound just gargantuan, it is like this big wall of slow and distorted noise, strong steps like a giant dead elephant itself.
The heavy sound is not everything on this album: there are long periods of atmospheric and distorted chords that manage to draw a very dense atmosphere of a real dark feeling, strange noises, pulsating bass lines almost without the natural tone of the instrument, very gloomy and lonesome soundscapes that really help you get the feeling of that fore-mentioned fly after death. Everything is suddenly broke down by the strong wall of guitar riffs, strong drum beats and sludge passages with very creative cymbal explosions and right fixed effects and vocals.
There are only four big songs on this album and the second “On the Stem” starts with one excerpt of an old Italian requiem which is barely being mixed with the guitar textures until it breaks to the wall of heavy guitars again. Ladies and gentleman, this is a great contribution to heavy music. From the very gloomy whispers we are immersed in a mix of dantesque landscapes and organized chaos. Slowly we come to a strong moment of the album, there is this great and haunting mantric chorus mixed with screams and fast drum work which, at the whole, is simply breathtaking, this is a big highlight of "Thanatology"
“Destrudo” is the shortest track here and I could say a little reminiscent of Neurosis in their most post-hardcore moments, it's also the song that most sounds like their previous album, more fast and less grandious someway. It's still very heavy with explosive drums and very vivid bass lines, very audible and distorted. The track provides a big amount of energy, what is good in this somewhat depressed context.
The last track “A Teardrop On Your Grave / Downfall of Xilbalba” is the big surprise of the album and at the same time where are some of its weak points. It's a light and soft sad instrumental ballad, very slow and ethereal while at the same time keeping the doom feel. After about seven minutes of this melody doing its job, what sounds a little tiresome after a while since it doesn’t change that much, we got the final explosion, with the walls of sound returning to complete the album with a strong moment. It's a great track in several aspects, but it somewhat lacks the sense of diversity and creativity that comes through all the album, being a little repetitive even if it works extremely well in the atmospheric work. It's far from bad, but not so good as the rest.
Resuming, this is a very concise record, very well worked in little details, the timbres are crystalline at the same time they are huge and strong. It's a great effort and everyone who is on metal and especially Neurosis fans should take a look on it.