Oppression has never felt so satisfying
Crushing. That’s the one word that keeps springing to mind when I try to come up with an adjective to describe Seattle’s Anhedonist and their debut release, Netherwards. Theirs is a sound that merges the bleak and unrelentingly heavy death/doom of diSEMBOWELMENT with the plodding, death metal sound of Incantation (though much more doom-oriented) and adds in yet another layer of sonic oppression though an occasional Evoken influence. In fact, I almost feel as though ‘crushing’ doesn’t do the album justice, but it’s the best I seem to be able to muster. In any event, the four tracks and 41 minutes of material the band has assembled on this disc is some of the best death/doom I have heard in quite a while.
There are a number of factors that contribute to Netherwards’ success but the one that stands out for me the most is the way the band seamlessly shifts between tempos and styles while still maintaining the oppressive and all-encompassing atmosphere that pervades every waking moment of the album. The transition between opening cut, Saturine, with its lumbering crust-infused blasts, and second track, Estrangement, with its vast and sorrowful rung-out notes is demonstrative of the consistency of vision the band has and that they can channel and harness this vision seemingly irrespective of the approach they choose to take with their songs.
Netherwards isn’t so much an album to revere for its overt originality as it is its masterful adherence to the assemblage of death/doom building blocks into the kind of strong structures that the blueprints of the original pioneers of the style designed. This isn’t to suggest in any way that there is any plagiarism on display but, rather, that Anhedonist have clearly taken their cues from bands like diSEMBOWELMENT and used that template as the basis from which to build something excellent.
The decidedly unpolished (though not underdone) production that harkens back to the heyday of the two influences cited in my opening paragraph is also a massive player in the album’s success. There is a gritty rawness to the way the album sounds that, when combined with liberal doses of reverb, creates an expansive sound and lends not so much an amateurish element to the mix but more of a primal, visceral, and unapologetically organic quality that enhances the sombre mood and adds an element of danger in that the band comes across as sounding somewhat unhinged; that, at any moment, literally anything could happen.
As someone who spends most of his time listening to doom in one form or another, it is quite an uncommon thing to be genuinely affected by the mood and feel of an album on more than a purely musical level but Netherwards is one of those rare albums that has struck a chord on a deeper level for me. For reasons I have yet to determine thus far there is something about this disc that exercises a wholly different region of the doom receptors in my brain that so many albums that I adore are completely unaware of (or are unable to touch). Perhaps it’s the band’s classic death/doom sound and its relative obscurity or perhaps it’s something else altogether but, whatever the reason, all I know is that I’ve had this thing on constant rotation for weeks now and I cannot get enough.
It’s probably way too early to be discussing end of year list contenders with any kind of certainty but, as it stands, Netherwards is easily one of my favourite 2012 releases in amongst and already strong field and it will take an album of mighty proportions to knock it off the high pedestal I have placed it upon.
(Dark Descent Records)