The concept of space in album production is an interesting and record-defining one. The way in which an album is constructed, coupled with the emphasis placed in the production room on each instrument, noise, and tone, can have a drastic impact on the way an album sounds and the manner in which the listener digests it. Metal has often found itself at war with space, compressing and distorting the music until it often feels like a wall of impenetrable and shrill noise. Sometimes this style of production works well with a band’s aesthetic, and other times it most certainly does not. Nevertheless, the noise war continues unabated. On the former half of the above spectrum we find Swiss one-man wrecking crew DSKNT, whose debut album PhSPHR Entropy is one of the most utterly suffocating and mind-warping black metal releases I have heard in some time. Rather than creating an atmospheric landscape of shrill screams, harsh guitars, and magisterial noise, DSKNT have created a warped and utterly suffocating amalgam of jagged guitars, blasting drums, and fierce growls and screams that is more an amalgam of the wild flailing of Deathspell Omega, the technical bent of Dodecahedron, and the towering menace of Bestia Arcana than the lo-fi occultic misery of early Mayhem or Emperor. It’s a sterling example of audio menace made clear and horrifying, and one you should listen to asap.
All of the above is great, but let’s be real here. All the nifty production techniques in the world only make up a small portion of what makes an album great. If the songwriting is bad, all the production pyrotechnics in the world won’t save an album from continuing to be garbage. Thankfully, one of the most immediately noticeable and impactful aspects of PhSPHR Entropy is how well constructed it is. Each of these songs flow in a way that makes them feel most assuredly part of a whole, yet are immensely enjoyable on their own. Album opener “Exhaling Dust” gives the listener wastes no time in letting the listener know that this journey into the heart of abstract, technical black metal will not be an easy one. The minute you hit play, a wretched growl, ferocious blast beats, and an angular, jagged riff hit your ears with all the force of an oncoming train. The barrage is utterly relentless and, as stated previously, suffocating. But rather than a typical wall of indecipherable noise, DSKNT display a penchant for technicality, morphing and contorting this main riff in several different ways, creating a disorienting vibe that is dizzying in its relentlessness. It’s a fantastic opening statement to an album that intends to pulverize the listener through misdirection, variety, and technical instrumentation. There’s melody to be found here as well, buried in the pile of sharp bones that is the principal structure of the record. At about the halfway mark of the opening track, the atonal assault shifts into a haunting, melancholy melody that slithers its way beneath the remainder of the track. Such appropriate and noticeable shifts in tone are throughout the album never distracting, but instead add rich variety throughout a rather searing assault.
Subsequent tracks follow this formula for the most part, but the album is far from rote or dull. The formula DSKNT creates serves to propel the music into varying sonic territories with intentionality and purpose, rather than to lay a foundation that the music cannot deviate from. There is a level of unpredictability here, like the transition from excellent second track “S.O.P.O.R.” to the very short and utterly abrasive instrumental interlude “Kr. Vy. Rites”, a horrifying foray into madness-inspired industrial noise that is completely different from everything you’ve heard before on the record, yet not at all out of place aesthetically. Flourishes like this help PhSPHR Entropy to transcend the typical one-man black metal project motif and step instead into something far more thoughtfully constructed and sinister. This pattern of excellence continues in “Kr. Vy. Portals”, which utilizes a slower and more deliberately harsh sound to complement its death metal growls. The vocals on this track are an excellent example of the variety inherent within DSKNT’s overall vocal performance, adding new details and components to each track that fit with their individual vibe impeccably well. “Resurgence of Primordial Void Aperture” once again throws listeners a stylistic curveball with a heavy death metal chug that morphs into a black metal maelstrom, letting these two complimentary sounds war against one another through the song’s crushing close. All of this leads to the mesmerizing, murderous finale of the title track, which closes the album on a nine-minute descent into hell that closes the album with relish, tying together the themes presented before into a devastating conclusion.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, the more suffocating aspects of an album’s sound can often serve as a detriment. With DSKNT, they are nothing short of perfect. There is little space or breathing room, and this only serves to heighten the transformative, shockingly clear, and unfailingly aggressive audio nightmare that is PhSPHR Entropy. It’s a challenging, abstract, and truly mesmerizing record that is a great deal to take in over the first few listens. Give its noisy and abrasive style time and you will find one of the most dizzying and destructive black metal albums you will hear this year. Make room on your year-end list, because if you’re a fan of avant-garde black metal or arresting music in general you’re in for a truly remarkable journey. A fantastic debut.