What exactly is the difference between instrumental music and music with vocals? There seems to be some key difference, or perhaps a group of them, that justifies creating a separate genre for the style. Obviously, instrumental music can itself be divided into different sub-genres to which it belongs but there’s something about the overall distinction that bears attention. It’s possible that, because of its lack of a voice, instrumental music’s ideas, emotions and concepts are harder to glean; they lie “submerged” within the more circumspect media of instrumentation and thus require a “deeper” listening to fathom.
This is certainly the case with Dumbsaint. These post metal instrumentalists can now be considered a feature of the Australian scene. Their 2012 debut release, Something That You Feel Will Find Its Own Form is one of the most challenging and massive post metal albums of the last half-decade. On the heels of that came their three part, reverse timeline epic Disappearance In a Minor Role, accompanied by a chilling and masterful video companion. And now, we have Panorama, in ten pieces. Simply put, this album is a further evolution in this band’s sound, one which parses, dissects and reassembles what and why they are. Alongside its own video creation, it further solidifies Dumbsaint as an influential and central band to the second rise of post metal, while innovating and building on the established tropes of that same movement.
What do we mean by that? What is “the second rise of post metal”? You can listen to Panorama, in ten pieces. for your answer. This new approach to post metal can be found in droves on this album (and, indeed, beyond it) and is best described as a more open, expansive and modern approach to the staple post metal sound. So, instead of endless riffs and drum/bass spirals into the void that characterized bands like ISIS or Pelican we find more open and lead-based orchestrations that remind us of A Swarm of the Sun or perhaps Rosetta. Oh, the riffs can come in hot and heavy when they’re needed, as you can hear on the massive “Love Thy Neighbour”, with its looming bass lines and ominous, spread out guitar.
But alongside that also exist quieter passages. A lot of them are more varied, more scattered and complicated than the sonorous fillers of past bands in the genre. They exude contemplation and beg to be closely listened to; there’s a lot going on in the background and if you don’t pay attention, a lot goes by unnoticed. Which is exactly the point: just listen to the intro and eventual progression of “Cold Call”. The ferocious opening gives way to a middle passage that might be mistaken as “simpler” when compared to the chaos of the beginning, but that is entirely deceptive. The cymbals are utilized with expertise, floating above the bass and accented by the gentle picks on the guitar. The end result is a tapestry, a mass of sound that, while not overwhelming, is a handful to separate and digest.
But if one takes the time to do so, if one adopts an intelligence-based position to the music, a beautiful flower unfolds. This is not meant to generate awe, not meant to break us down or crash on us with all the power of a tidal wave. This is meant to make us think, to make us reach out of ourselves and try to imagine a different life, a different perspective. The album’s perspective that is, dark, twisted, vulnerable and powerful. “Of No Return” is perhaps where this melange of ideas strikes home the hardest: the track is all about atmosphere, about immersion and tone. The build-up is extensive, with dreamy guitar dictating the slow pace to begin with. Around the four minute mark, things begin to pick up. It’s not a crescendo as such, a tool overused in this genre, but rather a shift of the theme towards the powerful and direct.
The guitars are now hard hitting punches, the drums rolling beneath us but whether to buoy us or drown us is anyone’s guess. Nor is the return to melody a respite but rather only serves to drive home how powerful everything is. This two step combo could easily be overused but it’s so cleverly structured in every track that it simply feeds into the general picture to make Panorama, in ten pieces. a refreshing and engaging post metal album. The exact abandonment of the classic elements of instrumental post metal and the replacement of them with ideas that are different, and yet serve the same thematic purposes, ensure that no moment is dull while still providing us with the dark, contemplative mindset we came here for. This makes the album both instantly engaging and yet continually thrilling; there’s always something more to discover, some new sound to stumble across. Maybe that’s why it took us so long to review it? Better late than never.
Dumbsaint – Panorama, in ten pieces.