Review Summary: They've still got it, folks
If a (completely hypothetical) list of the best bands in heavy music for the 21st century so far was made, I’d argue strongly that Downfall of Gaia deserve a place in the discussion. For one thing, the German collective’s discography (comprising five full-lengths before this latest addition) has been remarkably consistent, with every single record at least approaching excellence. And, perhaps most importantly, they’ve hit the jackpot and crafted genuine masterpieces twice, not only with the gloomy and engrossing journey that was 2012’s Suffocating In A Swarm Of Cranes
but also with 2019’s Ethic Of Radical Finitude
, one of the best fusions to ever emerge between post-rock and black metal. This whole paragraph is a long-winded way of saying that Downfall of Gaia have been a great
band for a while.
Well, now it’s been four years since the release of the latter of the group’s aforementioned twin peaks, and here comes the arrival of Downfall of Gaia’s sixth LP. While veteran groups go four years between records with some regularity, it still feels like this gap is worthy of note. A lot has changed in the world in those four years, and sometimes even the best bands just lose that special sauce which made them remarkable somewhere in the intervening period. In this case, though, there’s nothing to fear - while Silhouettes Of Disgust
marks a shift in style and vibe for Downfall of Gaia, it’s a worthy release which, indeed, ranks among the band’s finest material.
The album’s promotional materials note that each of the eight songs included focus on a particular individual, all “residents of a fictional metropolis, each with their own worries and struggles”. This lays out an urban atmosphere rich with bleak and misanthropic undertones: a setting in which each character is facing their personal demons alone within a sea of other humans who they mostly seek to avoid, a storyline particularly resonant in the wake of a global pandemic. While I tend to discount concept albums in the metal sphere, given that the often unintelligible lyrics prove a large hurdle to overcome, a general sense of these intentions does come through in these songs: there’s a feeling of griminess tinged with decadence tinged with a hint of film noir, somewhat similar to the feel created by Imperial Triumphant, even if you’ll be immensely disappointed if you jump into this album expecting anything like the avant-garde ramblings of that band.
Downfall of Gaia’s music has always been an amalgam of various genre traditions, brought together in compelling ways: black metal, crust punk, post-metal, post-rock, shoegaze, etc. The band’s trick has been to always alter that equation a touch between releases, thus showcasing a new facet of the band’s standard admixture. In this regard, Silhouettes Of Disgust
is no different. Advertised as somewhat of a return to roots, there’s a focus on shorter songs rather than the lengthy expositions which dominated Ethic Of Radical Finitude
. While this shift can be overstated (the average track length here is still over five minutes), this latest album is undoubtedly more song focused and pulls back a tinge on the dominance of post-rock aesthetics. While that genre still bears plenty of influence on the proceedings, most songs lean more towards the immediate, leaving behind fierce metal tunes with a punkish edge, often driven ahead by frantic drumming and anchored by ferocious screams which practically leap out of your listening device. Indeed, I’d argue that Silhouettes Of Disgust
is the band at their most readily accessible (ever), even if nothing here is remotely radio-friendly.
“Existence Of Awe” hits the spot as a jaw-dropping opener. Full of passionate intensity and revealed through crisp production, it serves prompt notice that Downfall of Gaia haven’t lost a step, but also illustrates that the album will be both heavy and in-your-face. Beyond those general statements, though, it’s hard to put this latest record’s tunes into any particular box. “While Bloodsprings Become Rivers”, for example, is the album’s longest track by a substantial margin, combining sweeping post-rock melodies with mammoth black metal influences before fading into a near-ambient last segment which leaves behind a residue of sinister grandeur. “Bodies As Driftwood”, meanwhile, carefully exercises restraint, leaving its aggression to play out behind a gazey veil. “Eyes To Burning Skies” is perhaps the album’s grandest composition, featuring an ominous intro accompanied by distant female vocals before twisting into an apocalyptic metal tune. The closer (and near title track) finishes up the collection with a tune which perfectly blends the group’s adoption of softer and heavier influences into a satisfying conclusion.
Within the scope of Downfall of Gaia’s discography, I’m confident that Silhouettes Of Disgust
will comfortably reside in the first tier, rivaling the band’s two previous standouts. For my money, it’s just a touch below both Suffocating In The Swarm Of Cranes
and Ethic Of Radical Finitude
, with those efforts functioning a bit more tightly as cohesive records. As a collection of wonderful tunes, though, the band’s latest is a massive success, and a reminder to a forgetful music-listening public that these Germans are still masters of their craft. Whether it’s a moment of delicate beauty, incandescent and unfettered rage, or perfect catharsis, Silhouettes Of Disgust
has a lot to offer. It’s one of the finest albums to grace my ears thus far this year.