Review Summary: see the flashes of someone else's lifeThe Sanity Universal
, from 2013, marked a turning point for Californian metalcore band Seizures; dense and intricately plotted from the micro level, it was a grand departure from their debut, Antipathy
, which wore its hardcore influences on its sleeve and lacked the experimentation that would later define the band. Experimentation, in the context of The Sanity Universal
, was emphasized by the production details that characterized the album: a nasty pitch-shifted riff, ambiance lurking behind corners, a smattering of keyboard at opportune moments. Besides a shared microscopic attention to detail, however, Reverie of the Revolving Diamond
is an entirely different beast.
Some structural points to get out of the way: the biggest evolution arguably concerns the increased importance of album trajectory. If I had one gripe with The Sanity Universal
, it was that each song was too self-contained; ROTRD
reverses this entirely with a well-defined flow, seamless transitions and subtle foreshadowing. For instance, “The Cycles Unnumbered” functions like a set-up for the upcoming track (the segue and motif-hinting at the end being the most noticeable aspects). Indeed, “The Cycles Unnumbered” and “In a Valley of Twilit Meres” both serve to unfurl “Mazarine”’s goal (i.e. teasing of the turmoil to come), which becomes fully realized after “In a Valley...”. Another obvious change is the introduction of a newfound, sun-drenched jazzy dynamic — slices of decadence — whose interspersing with heavier sections is crucial to the album and its management of tension.
(Addendum: I've been unsure about how to address this, but there is the matter of "Bedlam Blues". The song is supposed to represent claustrophobia, drowning, madness, etc., and it does, but not directly enough. What I take away first from "Bedlam Blues" is that it’s flashy, not that it is horrifying. It's the smallest misstep — nothing more than slightly overemphasized showmanship — but one that ends up compromising cohesiveness.)
Guitarist Albert Navarro states that he “wouldn’t say there’s an overall moral to this record when analyzing the lyrics, as each one is a specific situation, but there is a feeling of introduction to conclusion. The overarching narrative here would be the fictitious landscapes and colors thought up for each piece.” Roughly, in terms of landscapes, ROTRD
moves from the cosmos to starlit beaches to suffocating marshes; it's sometimes jarring and startlingly blunt in its portrayals of the absurdity it finds itself in. “The Ponds Have Dried Yet Still You Stare” sees a desperate, hoarse cry of “I’ll end this life” being swallowed into the void and overtaken by what I can only describe as seductive smooth jazz; the claustrophobic “Toxophola” is unerringly vicious and violent, suggestive of Biblical wrath (“When lambs knew not what lurked abroad / Before the shepherd’s broken rod/ From a fen of lies, came swarms of flies, like wolves with spider eyes”). With that in mind, light-filled “In a Valley..." (which immediately precedes “Toxophola”) reveals itself to be a cruel ruse, a state of wistfulness being shattered mercilessly.
The first time I listened to ROTRD
, I was genuinely shaken; nothing could have prepared me for the relentless horror that is the two-puncher of "Toxophola" and "The Ponds Have Dried...”. The main motif of "Toxophola" is a monster that cannot stay dead, retreating only to return in a more grotesque form; "The Ponds Have Dried...", meanwhile, crawls restlessly, whispers haunting a vivid fever dream (or nightmare, rather). In a similar vein, "Of Indigo and Seven Crows" dissolves from ostensibly peaceful reminiscence into a cacophony of feedback and jagged dissonance.
The establishment of horrific elements further accentuates the impact of bittersweet closer "Eru", which surprises in its subtle optimism even as it trails off to a muted outro. The drive of "Eru" is close to being upbeat, finding quiet triumph in restfulness and the mere fact of survival. It's a succinct affirmation of the band's current identity: "I’ve run full tilt, a lifetime’s worth, with pride, medications and all things of this earth / I’ve seen bright shine and shadows fall and witnessed minds dissolve / We were boys raised near the coasts of eterna / The paradisal hills by the sea / Not meant to fear, run, despair or be victims of the starless weight of this reality / I still feel the tides, vast oceans of time, and at the heart the moon’s unending light."
The treatment of time in ROTRD
is curiously paradoxical, in that it deeply anchors the present in the past; "In the Valley..." speaks of "an anachronism with eyes on all time but its own", and "Of Indigo and Seven Crows" states that "time exists no longer when you ruminate on those distant days, distinct times, lost with age". Now, I think of the songs as a series of vignettes, each hyper-focusing on a handful of previous emotions and memories: bliss dangling onto rage, tranquility overlapping with despair, a near-death experience from childhood (described on "Bedlam Blues") being analyzed through a lens of guilt and helplessness. It might be said, then, that ROTRD
derives much uncanniness from that temporal transposition — it is actively mired in the past, and it isn't until "Eru" that it manages to break out.
, despite oblique narratives that allude to mythology and fantastical elements, feels intensely personal, in the sense that it has sprung from very specific autobiographical moments; it's not the sort of album onto which you project your own personal experiences, not when there are pre-existing stories that leap out of the dark and grab you by the neck. Pay attention to the devices that signal important concepts — "home", for instance, seems to be evoked by those jazzy beachside moments, tinged with the cosmic overtones of space-y effects; "guilt" and "anguish" translate into ghastly spectres; "reminiscence" and "rumination" feature more harmonious (though ambiguous) tones. These may be said to constitute the three main palettes of the album, each blending into another as needed.
The fact is, ROTRD
makes me give a damn about its narratives. It forces me to confront types of fear, disgust, madness, and yearning that I myself have never known and will never know. Before you think "That's a trivial claim, all albums are supposed to make you feel things", I want to note that ROTRD
places the listener in a unique position — it's akin to having to battle creatures that have come alive from a book. They're definitely not from your own mind, but they're yours to deal with now.