Review Summary: Slide into my DSM-5
The most interesting thing about DSM-5
, against all odds, is just how uninteresting of a galactic odyssey it turns out to be.
Sporting an all-star cast – courtesy of Napalm Death, Converge, Megadeth and Nasum – and promising a conceptual, industrial metal tour de force, the 2020 reincarnation of Shane Embury’s short-lived 1994 side project, Blood from the Soul
, should be a spectacle worth the hype that its premise and pedigree would justify; and yet, frustratingly, the moments where DSM-5’s
vision is fully realised are few and far between, the album instead devolving into prolonged deluges of sluggish, cyclical chugging, absent the magnitude and nuance that really ought to be there.
The potential of the project is self evident from tracks like Debris of Dreams
and Encephalon Escape
, with Bannon’s typically ferocious vocals driving forward a dynamic and imposing collage of clanging, scraping steel. The opening one-two punch of Fang Tooth Claw
and Ascend the Spine
also land like a sludgy tonne of bricks, the primal rhythm section and crunchy lead riffs pulling the listener into what, at first glace, appears to be an elusive example of an excellent metal ‘supergroup’ release. And yet the more time I spend with DSM-5
, the harder the cracks in its visage become to ignore.
The self-imposed limits of DSM-5’s
“dystopian science fiction” subject matter and industrial/metalcore genre-leanings feel as if they pen the project in rather than opening up its creative potential, DSM-5
feeling restrained and clinical compared with the projects that its constituent artists are known for. Terminal Truth
and Self Deletion
smack of hastily produced The Dusk in Us
B-sides – absent the urgency and fury that these heavier cuts were presumably crafted to convey – whilst the menacing, mechanical atmosphere that the record constantly threatens to commit to never really materialises. The glacially-paced Subtle Fragment
and title track come close, bristling with noise and reverb-laden fuzz, but also grind the experience to a shuddering halt; rust taking hold, circuits fried. Bannon’s vague, enigmatic lyricism, whilst making for an interesting read, does little to tie the album together, with his exploration of “the relationship between consciousness and physical/psychological deterioration amid a multitude of stresses” not really congealing in the manner that the album’s colourful marketing material suggests it should.
My most unexpected gripe with DSM-5
, however, is that, despite first appearances, it just doesn’t feel all that heavy
, however you choose to define it. The record’s most heart-pounding moments are marred by muddied, cavernous production, whilst the genuinely gorgeous atmospheric flourishes scattered across its run time – tentative synths, reverb-laden keys and triumphant choral arrangements – are never fully committed to, remaining flourishes rather than features. Indeed, rather than building tension with these components and solidifying the otherworldly, sci-fi aesthetic that its cover art alludes to, most songs on DSM-5
hurriedly divulge their core motif within their first 30 seconds, only to cling onto it for the remainder of the track. It’s a repetitiveness that the likes Godflesh
have thrived on for years – crafting pummelling, imposing, monolithic soundscapes in the process – yet Blood from the Soul
fails to convincingly recapture this oppressive air, falling short of the standards set by its influences.
The thing is, DSM-5
isn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, despite what my melodramatic opening paragraph and subsequent rambling might suggest. Bannon, Embury and co. are undoubtedly experts at their craft, pulling together a competent release with enough meat on its bones to justify the multiple listens it takes to fully unpack. Rather, it’s how close Blood from the Soul
comes to doing something worth the hype of its cast list that makes its humble successes quite so underwhelming. DSM-5's
intriguing stylistic and thematic foundation never builds into the spectacle promised, making the 2020 sci-fi epic far less interesting than it has any right to be. Which is interesting. Which sucks.