The idea seems to come up every time a new record pops up within the niche that Gorguts, Portal, and Deathspell Omega built that there’s not much room left in the sphere of dissonant, atmospheric, and abstract extreme metal due to the limitations of the style. Murk chords and blastbeats can only carry a record for so long (as we’ve seen firsthand with Plebeian Grandstand), and the novelty is wearing thin. Bands such as Ulcerate and Sunless thrive on the death metal end of the spectrum by offering depth and creative riffing, but black metal has yet to have much success in challenging Deathspell’s monolithic reach. Dutch black metallers Dodecahedron are the best bet at carrying the torch into new territory, whose debut five years ago came (from seemingly) out of nowhere and quickly reached cult status. The group, who has significant ties to prog-fusion group Exivious, takes a more overtly progressive and technical approach to the sound, and therefore, into further extremities.
Their sophomore album Kwintessens builds upon the formula that their self-titled debut crafted. Their avant garde and experimental take on black metal is anchored by the good work of Deathspell with augmentations informed by Altar of Plagues. Creative and discordant guitar riffs (actual riffs, mind you) meld in a wall of sound with occasional synth pads for a writhing sort of darkness that can only come from this corner of extreme metal and is bolstered by the band’s impeccable rhythmic diversity. There’s also an air of psychedelia across Kwintessens that is almost ineffable, yet it differs in Dodecahedron’s outright embrace of trippy kaleidoscopic instrumental passages that appeared on a per-song basis. Instead, the entirety of Kwintessens is valued in its holistic breadth and development.
The record carries a hint of a flow with some recurring motifs (a distinct palm-muted riff appears throughout the record), and does so without succumbing to the fatigue of its own weight and ambitions. Dodecahedron pull this off by creative and technical musicianship and a varied approach at songcraft that gives Kwintessens its ebb and flow through its three distinct parts that writhe in anguish, ascend into space, and crash down into deeper depths. The album initially indulges in the most sonically extreme black metal imaginable that dissolves into an instrumental interlude that hints at an ethereal melodicism that would come to pay off two tracks later in “DODECAHEDRON – An Ill-Defined Air Of Otherness,” the crown jewel of Kwintessens. This track’s self-referential and self-titled nature bears significance as it bridges the occult and maddeningly obtuse Deathspell-inspired sound with that of lushly ambient post-black metal contemporaries Deafheaven (or perhaps An Autumn For Crippled Children, given its use of synths) for a style that hasn’t really been heard before.
In this regard, Dodecahedron are the champions of the incremental change necessary to keep not only this niche of bizarre extreme metal interesting, but to challenge black metal—already a contender for the most “extreme” musical genre—to evolve further into what little unexplored territory may be left. How is it possible to push this genre deeper into the darkness? Kwintessens offers an answer through an otherworldy experience that, like its predecessor, is an all-encompassing ode to black metal’s vast reaches into dark ambient, noise, post-rock, and prog. With this in mind, it’s safe to say that Kwintessens is brilliant, challenging, and absolutely necessary.