We’ve spoken about post-black metal a lot in the recent days and with good reason; it’s without a doubt one of the trends currently affecting the metal community. However, one of its least discussed aspects is how it bleeds into, and thus influences, the other genres of black metal. This osmosis can be heard on the new Downfall of Gaia record for example, a band that has never been too far from the post-black moniker themselves. Atrophy presents a further exploration of their sound which detractors might, foolishly, call “going soft”. It’s more productive, however, to understand Atrophy as an attempt to communicate with ongoing ideas and conversations within the sub-genre, sacrificing some of the hard hitting brutality of earlier releases for a more expressive and varied palette.
There should be no mistake here; Atrophy is one hell of a heavy album, with the abrasive and down-right reality corroding segments Downfall of Gaia are famous for very much present. Opening track “Brood”, after the signature, haunting intro, is all fury, bristling bones and devastating composition. From the moment it gets started it does not relent, the drums once again dictating the crashing onslaught of everything else. The vocals are as raw as ever, whether the high pitched screams at the beginning of the track or the lower gutturals scattered along the end of it. The guitars also have that abrasive and immediately overwhelming feel to them that made Aeon Unveils the Thrones of Decay so damn effective.
However, even during “Brood”, a second approach to instrumentation can be heard, mainly on the choruses. More melodic guitar leads and a more concise approach to drums inject plenty that is drawn out and emotionally dynamic to the structure of the tracks. “Woe” perhaps most builds on this promise and creates a truly epic feeling, akin to genre greats like Alcest or even Dimmu Borgir. As the album progresses, these elements intensify until, completing the Downfall of Gaia triptych, they collapse into the depressing and somber places that have always been the second side of the equation to the band’s abrasiveness. Thus, this is not just a tacking on but an organic and complete addition to Downfall of Gaia’s sound, working with the full range of themes that they have always explored.
As such, a narrative of return might also be fitting here, with the band channeling more of the post-metal influences that can be found on their earlier works. The glue of these new combinations are the outside influences, the more classically grandiose sections of black metal that have been added to the fray. That’s why the move from the transitional and quietly depressing “Ephemerol II” into the title track “Atrophy” works so well, for example; instead of the more subdued guitars sounding flat before the crash of abrasive distortion, they are connected by the drum build up and then the swelling, melodic main riff of the track. By the time the wounded vocals arrive and usher in the true unfolding of the track, we are ensnared.
If one chooses to look at it through derisive lenses, Atrophy can be seen as a compromise. However, if we instead choose to understand it as a blending of common elements together with emerging ones, we get a much more accurate and fruitful image of an album that breaks ground for Downfall of Gaia. By connecting their unique sound with familiar elements, as well as with new ones forged by the nascent post-black movement, Atrophy is able to create something that was perhaps missing from previous albums. In the harsh light of their emphasis on abrasiveness and despair, previous Downfall of Gaia albums, although brilliant, were singular and monolithic in their desire and that desire’s execution. Here, we receive a full gamut, a broad spectrum of emotions and expressions, a spectrum which makes the abrasive sides all that much heavier and effective.
Downfall of Gaia’s Atrophy releases today via Metal Blade Records. You can purchase it here.