Some music has urgency; it feels like the notes have to keep coming or you’re going to suffocate but the more of them that sound, the more buried you feel. Black metal is the genre which most often elicits this feeling, probably because it’s so fast and abrasive. Something about riff after riff piling on, as screeching vocals pierce the top of the mix, just sets our ears on edge and our teeth to grinding. Mo’ynoq‘s main goal as a band seems to be to capitalize on this sensation with their latest release, Dreaming in a Dead Language. It offers a kind of ferocious and claustrophobia inducing brand of American Black metal, constantly hitting the listener with sound after sound. Along the way, the band make sure to channel enough interesting ideas and transitions to keep the listener attentive, like a clever shepherd keeping the ox at constant arm’s length, leading us on by the nose and deeper into a darkened valley.
“Empyreal Decay”, the opening track off the album, is probably the track which most immediately conveys this feeling. The production makes sure to keep the bass loud and chunky, filling in the almost immediate aural assault of the main guitar riff with lots of meaty presence. This barrage of notes is what first draws our attention, a sense of trepidation of how this promise of violence will be fulfilled further down the album filling our hearts. However, Mo’ynoq are not just interested in setting the bar for aggression on Dreaming in a Dead Language. Via a super clever shift in rhythm, spearheaded by the drums and the bass, Mo’ynoq also make sure we understand that this album is going to be varied and progressive; it’s not just a head on charge that we have on our hands, but rather a multi-pronged attack set to daze and overwhelm us.
As the album unfolds, this promise is made good on. “Carve My Name” for example offers a deceptive respite with its melodic intro, as a thin tremolo line in the background carves swirls around a frozen horizon. When the rest of the instrumentation kick back in, capitalizing on the slower beat of the intro, they make good on the comparisons Mo’ynoq have drawn to bands like Agalloch or Wolves in the Throne Room; here, the black metal is more epic, spanning millennia and miles of awe. Make sure you, once again, pay close attention to the dynamics between the bass and the drums as they weave clever intonations around the main clause of the track; while the guitars are going fast and heavy, with multiple tracks blending into a wall of noise, the bass and the drums take a more agile approach, elaborating on the main musical ideas of the track, before a surprising solo arrives underneath a blistering scream.
This also opens us up for discussion of the main weak point of Dreaming in a Dead Language; it’s a lot and it feels like a lot. While not avantgarde in any particular sense of the word, the album is still not easy to grapple with. Some of it is inherent in the genre; no one expects black metal to be approachable and digestible. But some of it is also a result of the constantly present, and sometimes too loud, bass and the way the drums cut through the mix and often nudge away the guitars. It creates this overbearing presence of sound at all moments and a lot of the dynamics of quiet and noise get lost. As a result, the first few listen-throughs of the album can be a chore; your ears tire quickly and the band’s dedication to staying varied can rob you of musical anchor points.
However, as we said, you don’t really go into black metal expecting a walk in the park; it’s a genre which has etched the ideal of “the trial by fire” sternly into its flag. This Dreaming in a Dead Language most assuredly achieves. For those willing to dive into its thorny embrace and brave the tumultuous waves of its passage, much is to be expected. It presents a brutally non-comprising vision for black metal in 2019, sacrificing neither speed, aggression or technicality, wielding all of these tools at the same time. Once you decode what’s going on and figure out your way forward, the album has much to offer for fans of that kind of challenge.
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Mo’ynoq’s Dreaming in a Dead Language will be released on January 11th. Head on over to the Bandcamp link above to pre-order it!