Dead to a Dying World
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
With its stupendously long running time, its compositional depth, and its *cough* litany of stylistic influences, Texan septet Dead to a Dying World's second full-length release, Litany, is certainly a dense and challenging listen.
This is all well and good of course, but the important question is whether or not the inherent challenge of the album is worth your investment in time. The answer to that question is yes, for the most part.
Litany begins with its longest and, unfortunately, one of its weakest tracks in "The Hunt Eternal" which features its share of quality material, yes, but also makes the mistake of incorporating just about every one of the band's numerous stylistic influences throughout its near 17-minute running time. None of the individual parts are bad (though I'd argue that the opening riff is pretty stock) and the two appearances by Pallbearer's Brett Campbell are particularly worthy of praise (even if these appearances do sound like they're Pallbearer outtakes), but the musical kitchen sink approach ultimately results in a very long montage of disparate ideas rather than a coherent journey. It's a shame, too, because a little more restraint or at least some more creative focus could quite possibly have yielded a tour de force for the band.
It isn't until the album's third track, "Eventide", that Dead to a Dying World deliver said tour de force, however, but the wait is most certainly worth it. Evoking what I imagine a blending of Worm Ouroboros and Agalloch would sound like, "Eventide" is a slow and delicately constructed number that is the antithesis of "The Hunt Eternal" through its methodical exploration of but a few styles and ideas and is made infinitely better for it. It is here that we get a real sense of what the band is capable of when they're creatively focused and intent upon delivering a well-realised vision.
From this point on, as with the two opening tracks, Litany is a bit of a mixed bag of sometimes good, sometimes great material, and then a bunch of other material that doesn’t really do all that much for me. “Beneath the Loam”, for example, isn’t vastly dissimilar to “Eventide” in form or function though it lacks the sense of narrative cohesion that makes “Eventide” so strong, while the instrumental “Sick & Sunder” is perfectly fine but also largely forgettable, and, finally, album closer, “Narcissus”, suffers from similar issues to “The Hunt Eternal” in that it has its share of really great moments but also packs in a number of different styles, the compatibility of which I found to be questionable in this particular packaging.
I feel that I should emphasise again that none of what Dead to a Dying World has composed is bad and, on the contrary, is often really good, but it’s not consistently really good. This would be dismissible if we were talking about small, digestible compositions here, but we aren’t. We’re generally talking about sprawling numbers that stretch into and sometimes past the 14 minute mark. When your songs span such lengthy durations, having a few good ideas in amongst a number of others that don’t work as well is felt a lot more acutely than if the same ratio were to be found in songs of shorter duration.
Ultimately, Litany is an album with an abundance of good ideas, which is both its greatest asset and its greatest flaw. When Dead to a Dying World slow themselves down and focus on fully developing a small handful of these ideas, they're capable of delivering truly deep, evocative, and satisfying music, but when they get a little too excited and try to show everything off at once, the wheels have a tendency to fall off and the experience becomes somewhat disjointed and confused.
Even though I didn't love Litany and I do have my quibbles with it, I still liked a lot of what I heard, warts and all. It may not be an essential album but it is definitely an interesting one that hints at the heights Dead to a Dying World have the potential to reach at some point down the line, which is certainly something in itself. A band to keep an eye on, this one.