For fans of post-anything metal, there was a turning point where we came to dismiss instant gratification. The point where we came to fall in love with the longform sonic journey, the gradual and subtle expanse of musical ideas, or the entrancing (and at times physical) nature of cascading, droning riffing and phantasmal leadwork. Bigger than that, it’s where we abandoned immediacy in exchange for the ambient, the psychedelic, the densely layered, or the ruminating. I feel like for many of us, the moment that post-whatever finally clicked was awe-inspiring, and it, like anything truly impressive, probably led to a few “Dude, you gotta check this shit out!” moments soon thereafter. Ironically (or not, depending on how you look at this), post-everything evolved from niche to mainstream. Post-black metal bands are getting fucking Grammy nominations now. So in this post-everything point of existence, it’s interesting to consider the position of the oft-overlooked French post-pioneers DIRGE to see where they fit in today’s landscape.
Where the group’s earlier work usually fell somewhere between post- legends Neurosis and Godflesh, they’ve reigned in the extremes of this spectrum over the years to create a more approachable, and in this writer’s opinion, tasteful sound. Most noticeably, the electronics and samples have been toned down. While their industrial and even glitchy or dystopian roots have all but dissolved on Lost Empyrean, the residue of their mechanical ambiance is still present. Tracks like “Hosea 8 7,” “Algid Troy,” and the record’s title track nicely mesh airy swaths of keys and electronics with strict, regimented drumming. This pseudo-recreation of an older industrial sound is as intriguing as it is prominently featured. DIRGE haven’t as much evolved from an industrial-sludge band to something else as they have evolved industrial-sludge into something else, something that certainly warrants further exploration – a commendable feat. Further, these electronic textures permeate their sound, fortifying their spacious guitar work while mellowing out their hulking riffs, serving as a conduit to reconcile their impossibly rangy sound as it bridges the gap between ethereal cleans and corporeal heft. “The Burden of Almost” exhibits just how far they can push this concept, resolving in a fade-out that’ll have you scrubbing back for another dip. This dichotomy is integral to how this current version of DIRGE operates. Fortunately, these progressive tendencies don’t seek to be exhaustive.
More importantly however, is how the group has managed to better-portion these slabs of titanic sludge. Where earlier efforts were often uneven or unfortunately bit off more than anyone should chew, DIRGE totally find the sweet spot here. The broad runtimes that ballooned on their 2000s output has been essentially halved, buckling things up to a comparatively tight sub-ten minute runtime. In addition, the sequencing and structure of each track help Lost Empyrean consistently present a fresh face. Even their immense meditative sprawls are astutely spaced to avoid fatigue. Much of the album’s golden era post-metal riffing muscle is tempered by the aforementioned electronics and samples, plus the effects-heavy approach keeps the record from becoming too one-dimensional or downtrodden. There’s a persistently illuminating (dare I say uplifting?) spectre that resides behind every dismal turn, forming faintly and quickly evaporating before it’s presence is ever really truly felt. In a way, this ghost-chasing picks up the pace of the record, present enough to draw attention, but never distracting the listener or taking away from the power and weight of the guitars – devastating closer is an amp-quaking steamroller awash with dreamy detours and shapeshifting opener “Wingless Multitudes” makes a bold, captivating introduction. In tandem is the vocal variety employed throughout the record. Throaty roars carry a tangible weight to them, evoking a true sense of despair and frustration. The surprisingly nimble cleans are sobering as they can be inspiring, even angled to a surprisingly melodic effect in the album’s title track and “A Sea of Light,” calling to mind gloomy 80s pop. The stylistic plethora on display is nothing to scoff at.
Though it’s been four years have passed since their previous effort, Lost Empyrean proves that DIRGE remain the boundary pushers they’ve always been and reinforces their place in the pantheon of post-metal. They’ve composed what’s arguably their finest album in what’s a paradoxically immediate and vast listen, a record that confidently forges ahead with blinders on, independent of any larger trends. This being said, as synths and electronics in general take a more prominent foothold in extreme music (see: pretty much every band with a progressive or avant-garde angle on an AOTY list this year), it’s no leap to assume that Lost Empyrean may be exactly what someone needs to find as that landmark “click-inducing” listen to can inspire a new path forward. If you’ve even marginally enjoyed the recent output of Cult of Luna, Amenra, or Rosetta, you owe it to yourself to catch another glimpse at the future of post-metal; don’t miss this record.
Lost Empyrean is available December 14 via Debemur Morti Productions.