Review Summary: Vivid, emotional, and evocative. Damascus once again prove they deserve recognition at the top of the post-rock realm.
"Everything Was Burning" isn't how I expected When Last We Met
would begin. Sure, Heights
had some similarly heavy sections on tracks like "All Points Below," but nothing in these New Jersey post-rockers' back catalog seems to have the sort of burst and aggression of this album's opener and it certainly deviates from the soft openings of previous outings. But, rather than establish a tone of luster as with the immaculate "Come to Light," "Everything Was Burning" places you at the center of disaster - flames licking down the walls around you, trapped within the confines of a post-metal rocker that easily conjures up fond memories of bands like Isis.
And then, peace - or some semblance of it.
Sudden and solitary, the embers fade to ashes as you look on, feeling scorched and empty. "Breathless" begins with a somber, ringing intro that paces itself into the tentative hope of a looping, rapidly tapped melody. Things, at this point, take a twist away from the immense and consuming heaviness of the album opener and steer us back towards the fragile darkness showcased on last year's Heights
. With rays of light beaming into the post-rock shadowbox from time to time in the form of bright guitar melodies and powerfully emotive string arrangements, Damascus play a constant contrast to themselves on When Last We Met
, and it (once again) works to perfection.
While certain tracks bring back successful clashes between bright piano leads and dark, heavy riffs, the primary focus here is placed on turning simple musical aspects into large, overarching tracks with stories told by crescendos, shifting moods, tempos, articulations, and more. Whether you’re looking at the simple introductory acoustic chords of the title track or the hypnotic pulse of “Morning Star,” every track pulls its musical elements together slowly, appropriately, and deliberately like a force of gravity unifying the perfect mix of chemicals to condense a planet.
Damascus have always sort of worked this post-rock crescendo of elements to a finely-tuned perfection on previous outings, yet with the incorporation of additional orchestral instruments both bowed and plucked, Damascus somehow find a way to add depth to an already deep and impactful sound without the clutter of overcrowding. Every track sounds rich and full with each instrument contributing its own weight and more to tie everything together extraordinarily neatly. Yes, as a one-off, "Everything Was Burning" feels cluttered and chaotic at times, but you get a very distinct sense that it's a purposeful chaos - a (very impressive) palate cleanser set to open your ears up for the musical feast to come.
And when every track feels so full, vibrant and purposeful, you could be forgiven for filling up one track at a time - for a 38 minute album, When Last We Met
takes many listens to fully process. Yet the flow of the album feels so seamless up to the point of closer "Wake" (whose overwhelmingly positive acoustic introduction is a jarring counter to the looping minor key outro and low double bass swells of predecessor "Morning Star") that you may just find yourself indulging fully and often. Of course, as "Wake" expands and develops, it fits right in with the rest of When Last We Met
, lending credence and purpose to an initial tonal contrast found nowhere else on the album.
With such a persistently impressive catalog of music, Damascus are growing hard to ignore. From shattering, percussive bombast to intricate, soaring melodies, When Last We Met
is a showcase for a group of very talented musicians to combine their efforts to create something huge, beautiful, and at times, dangerous. It is something as shimmeringly bright as it is terrifyingly dark, with all manner of vibrant colors painted across the spectrum of introspection in-between.
Personified, When Last We Met
is decidedly human - both singing and groaning; hoping and despairing. It feels like an album that breathes some mysticism into reality, but which never breaks into a plane of fiction; determined to excel within the internal and external realms it was born into. Perhaps that's a bit flowery, but this is the sort of album that paints vivid pictures and stirs emotions. And with a track record for doing just that only enhanced by When Last We Met
, I see nothing stopping Damascus from becoming the preeminent force in post-rock today and for the many todays to come.