Review Summary: A darker and more mature take on Damascus's power brand of technical post-rock.
The album artwork for Heights
does a pretty good job of representing just what the album is: a falling into a darker space for the Damascus that brought us the thoughtful-yet-weighty post-rock of 2011's Of Whom I Always Think
. The group are still performing at the top of their game in an album that's filled with groove and compositional grace from the first piano ticklings of opening stand-out "Come to Light." Truly, for their two-years of seclusion (discounting the 2012 remix release prière d'espoir
), the band are no worse for wear, and even show a subtle development in compositional fluidity.
The true shock of Heights
is not in any lacking or longing for previous efforts, but the seeping presence of the dark ambiance hinted at by prière d'espoir
. While Of Whom I Always Think
posited a brighter, energetic soundtrack, Heights
moves on from "Come to Light" to explore the shadows with an ever-present background moaning that shades the sound with an edge-of-your-seat gloom. All of this manages to lay a thin, sludgy glaze on top of highly technical guitar and bass work that bops from fret to fret with a practiced touch that's almost playful within the dark overtones.
As far as SAT-style analogies go, Heights
is to Of Whom I Always Think
as Scale the Summit's The Collective
is to Carving Desert Canyons
. The album displays a darker tone and a maturity that really only time could develop among highly skilled musicians. Through the power of hindsight, it's clearly visible that Heights
is the next best logical step on Damascus's path to post-rock royalty. Hallmark sounds of the group such as the crushing twin rhythms, dancing bass grooves, and restrained yet highly proficient drumming on Of Whom I Always Think
have been nurtured and cultivated on Heights
while its spaced out side (see "Just Another Illustration") comes from the ambiance of prière d'espoir
The two can be very different sides of the same coin, yet Damascus do a very strong job of unifying their sound through their 38 minute post-rock release. The flow throughout Heights
is tight from start to finish and challenges post-rock with a technical approach and tone not unheard of in the technical metal world, making the album (and group) lauded stand-outs from the rest of the practiced world of slow-and-steady atmospheric rocking with their oft-uptempo groove.
I will note that Heights
is not the easiest album to digest in a single sitting, though that's a case that should be common to the post-rock aficionado. There are layers of subtle nuance to Heights
that make it the spectacular album that it is, and deconstructing all of them within one session is a chore as difficult as letting the album simply wash over you. Neither is the recommended course of action for this release. Rather, take your time with it. Chew slowly and thoughtfully and enjoy each moment and aspect one at a time. That's how this exquisite brand of post-rock is meant to be tasted.