Review Summary: A soundtrack that punishes and brutalises and frightens and makes me grin sadistically
This is not an immediate album. You need to be in the right mental and physical environment. Walking tentatively through the woods late at night, wrapped in your covers hiding from the darkness -- and my personal favourite: after a stupefying level of gin (though gin makes everything spectacular, no?) 'The Dreaming I' is practically a mood piece. The aggression sludges together into ambient darkness while melodies writhe and squirm under a layer of slime that easily obscures.
In case you're not following, this is my pompous way of talking about the production. Basically, it's very black metal: murky, flat, reverb-heavy and dense -- though not necessarily lo-fi. On first listen you may find it monotonous. The dynamics and textures never vary; the whole thing is one prolonged nightmare. But when you focus in on the melodies it becomes fantastically powerful. As I've said, it does require some effort on the listener's part. Close your eyes and let the music direct your imagination. Suddenly the album crawls out of the mud and frightens you with life.
Okay, enough with the metaphors. Some background info: it is a concept album by the guy behind Nightbringer. (Many other reviewers note that if you don't like the guy's other stuff, you'll doubtless hate this too. As usual, they speak bollocks. I can't get into Nightbringer but this album is to me superbly different.) The band is, in its own words, 'an opening to the sound of his [Akhyls'] own haunted dreams, the occult world of hallucinations incarnated in music.' If that wasn't pretentious enough, the album concept is described as a 'fascinating and grandiose sonic monument consisting of five otherworldly compositions, five dark tunnels of fury and intensity in which to lose yourself, filled with dangerous and hypnotic melodies. This first album is a unique moment in timeless time, a delicious abyss of dark and ethereal enchantment that takes Black Metal into another magnificent.'
(Yummy: delicious abyss!)
Despite the usual trite overwritten black metal blurb, the album does actually deliver on all these feelings. Indeed the production style mentioned does a lot to portray this concept, but it is really the album's modestly-described 'otherworldly compositions' and 'dangerous and hypnotic melodies' that clarify this aphotic concept in your mind's eye. (No, I didn't get that out of a thesaurus, thank you.)
These are long pieces, one stretching to 16 minutes, albeit with 2 minutes of gloomy ambient noise bookending it. But they are fortunately far from boring. The melodies themselves are memorable, and all tend to abide by a similar partially-dissonant approach. They usually vary rather than simply repeat, with a kind of melodic metamorphoses being more common than sudden riff change. This is of course keeping in key with the continuous dream-scape concept. Sometimes, however, new melodies do burst out of ambience -- and these occasions are all the more frightening because of their rarity.
The vocals are great but not necessarily exceptional. They certainly do fit well and that's all this author cares about. The bass is inaudible (this is a black metal album after all). The guitars seem to come in two colours: one muddy all-purpose tone and one sharp, penetrative lead guitar tone that makes for a shriekingly good outro in the title track. And the drums are surprisingly powerful, with an addictively muscular bass drum. They are, to the album's benefit, quite prominent in the mix and are most definitely a highlight.
Right, basically this is an album of exceptional standard. If you, like me, get an intense masochistic thrill from the idea of someone pumping dense slime into your ears while you close your eyes and dream of horrors thought inconceivable, then please do give this album a spin. Or if you're a more sadistic black metal fan who dreams of murder and church burnings then I'm sure the glumness of the album will appeal to you too. Or else to the more sane music lovers out there, I would note the effortlessly clever compositions, the heavily stylised production, the morbidly evocative melodies -- all of which are made possible by some seriously skilled musicianship. This is an album everybody interested in black metal should hear.