Have you ever stopped to consider how weird it is that American metal bands from across all genres (but especially heavy and black metal) adopt what are essentially Germanic/Scandinavian symbology and cultural language? After all, while a more significant portion of Germans did make up early and mid-19th century American culture, Scandinavia had little to do with it (beyond the fact that they actually “discovered” America first). And yet, many US-based metal bands just blindly follow the path of least resistance and sing about vikings, Odin, and crows flying through winter storms. There’s no real problem with it; they should sing about what they’d like in this case. It’s just boring, you know? It results in bands ignoring their local, unique history and heritage and drawing on the same imagery, imagery they don’t really understand or feel that deeply about.
This phenomenon has deep roots in the American culture is constructed and performed, but we won’t get into it here. Suffice it to say, it’s not exactly a surprising reality if you look deeper into any other parts of American culture and the motley of outside influences they tend to represent. Happily, there have been several bands who have bucked this norm in recent years and further into the past. Bands like Clutch are famous for this, creating their own kind of American myth. In more recent years, bands/projects like Wayfarer and Panopticon have started to bring that most obsessed with culture of genres, black metal, closer to creating its own, unique, American flavor, injecting the tired tropes of the genre with much needed vitality. To this list we can now add Deschain.
For the last seven years, but especially with their previous album and their most recent one which we are reviewing here, Deschain have been creating black metal influenced by American folk music rather than by Northern European folk. Fortunately, their music is also much more than this gimmick, representing a true dedication to black metal and making it well. While their previous album was somewhat rough around the edges, Grit Part 2: Drift (hence known as Drift) owns those rough edges and makes a more well rounded and well executed foray into this style of country tinged black metal.
The influences working on this album are apparent right off the bat, with “Dust of Life” probably being the most fully realized and accomplished track on the album. It opens with a dreamy guitar passage backed by harmonica, speaking of the plains which it conceptually crosses as it heads eastward across the continent. Eventually, the electric guitars and drums begin to build up, with the harmonica brilliantly still playing in the background. When the vocals erupt, screeching across the plains of dust, several tremolo picked guitar lines take up the lines first laid by the harmonica, while the drums erupt into furious pounding. The result is a massively epic theme and sensation that nonetheless manages to maintain those original, folk-tinged ideas from the opening passages.
The track will revisit these ideas over and over again in vocals, guitar parts, and ambiance. This gives it a strong sensation of identity and place; it’s always apparent how the ideas in the track “speak” with the concept and folk ambitions of the track without giving up their own uniqueness and sense of scale. This sense of epic size is very well injected into the parts leading up to the track’s end, creating an immensely convincing emotional segment of the track, replete with more classically intoned guitars and distortion playing solos which can easily be described as “All American”. Unfortunately, a lot of the power of this outro is lost in the unnecessary interlude track which follows; sounds of the swamp envelop us, struggling to make us see and feel the setting described but sadly only slowing down the momentum of the album.
It’s especially egregious because the following track, “Drift”, has such a great opening. Turning to the banjo, it performs the same kind of build up and introduction of “Dust of Life” but in a different, lighter, more jovial way. Letting go of the interlude track and leading right into the somewhat frivolous opening of “Drift” would have been a better call. However, that same opening quickly rids us of any bad taste and launches right back into the album. It’s a more echo-y, fast paced exploration of Deschain’s sound, a raucous, deep voiced take on the black metal that came before it, also including a marvelously delightful, almost spoken word passage at its middle, channeling those storyteller tropes of American folk myths. It perfectly sets up the stage for the once-more epic closing track, in all its thirteen and half minutes of engaged, over the top elements.
From there and until its end, Drift is a very well made exploration of what American black metal can mean and what power true dedication and passion about your cultural influences can bring to the style of music. By not giving up on the classic elements of the musical genre but rather injecting them with instruments, sounds, and ideas from the land all around them, Deschain have finally “cracked” their own formula and made an album which truly transcends their genre in interesting ways. Did I mention the album was released on the 4th of July? Pass the rye, re-string that banjo, put on your best cowboy hat, and let’s ride off into the sunset.
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Deschain’s Grit Part 2: Drift was self-released on the 4th of July, to the rejoicing of the American people. You can grab it via that dang ol’ Bandcamp link above.