Atmosphere can make or break any media; from an album, to a video game, to a haunted house, what creates the worth and enjoyment of the experience is its atmosphere. In music, especially metal, atmosphere can be an enormous part of the equation. Masterpieces like Agalloch’s The Mantle and Neurosis’s Times Of Grace are triumphs of the atmospheric qualities that can imbue the genre. And it is this attribute of metal that the newest EP from black-sludge-grindcore band Dead in the Manger, the 26-minute gut punch that is Cessation, uses to its utmost advantage, creating an incredible musical and emotional experience.
It’s hard to resist comparing this EP to last year’s release from Warforged, Essence of the Land. They came out around the same time a year apart, and like Essence, Cessation is clearly, from the get-go, designed to be listened to all at once (the tracks do not have names; instead, they are referred to as ‘I’ through ‘IV’). Just like Essence, this release is focused mainly on drawing the listener into the atmosphere — an atmosphere of despair, loss, and negativity.
Although, on paper, these comparisons make sense, as soon as these two are listened to side-by-side, they become night-and-day different. Where Essence of the Land is a fast-paced, techy, orchestral feast of a black metal EP, Cessation is a crawling, monolithic beast of slow sludge and relentless tremolos, broken up by ambient noise sections and arpeggiated chords. The EP has an almost stop-and-go feel to it, what with the way it brings forth sludge sections slower and thicker than molasses in January, and then turns these ideas on their head with a fiery, hectic tremolo riff. This almost-discordant constant shifting between these two metal parts and depressive ambiance creates a pattern, but far from getting the music stuck in a rut, this almost-predictable arrangement adds to the morose and downtrodden atmosphere.
The breaking up of Cessation into these patterns is where the EP really succeeds. On its own, no one part of the music is worthy of intense praise. The vocals and percussion are nothing out of the ordinary for a black metal affair; snarls and blast beats file in line with the guitars, consistent and driving. Every riff is solidly crafted and punches sharply, but nothing stands out as anything particularly mind-blowing when taken out of context. Rather, the EP’s strength lies in its ability to bring these starkly contrasting sludge, black metal, and ambient styles together into cohesion. It is within the framework of the EP that the truly incredible nature of the album shines through. Cessation’s huge triumph as a work is in its placement. Every element of this release is perfectly placed within its environment; it blends together as a beautiful, cohesive whole.
Cessation is an enormous victory for Dead in the Manger. In no such way before has black metal been so masterfully combined with sludge and atmospheric parts to form such a powerful, emotional piece. It’s truly a journey into some of the best-written music that atmospheric black metal has to offer — a journey accompanied by soft, melancholy ambiance and slow, feedback-laden sludge. All in all, this EP offers a perfect blend of sadness and almost scornfully angry frenzy that is sure to satisfy any fan of the genre.
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