It wouldn’t be particularly unfair to peg Texas blackened doom merchants Dead to a Dying World as maximalists, at least on paper. With seven core members, not including a constant stream of guests that populate each of their records with disparate vocal musings or accompanying instrumentation, it would not be difficult for the group’s music to develop into a hodge-podge of compositional excess. The more-than-minor miracle of Dead to a Dying World’s output is that it couldn’t be further from a disorganized mess. With each new record, the band have further refined their unique blend of black, sludge, and doom-infused post-metal archetypes into something that is both utterly epic and often surprisingly understated. There’s nuance to the group’s music, a carefully considered methodology behind their songcraft that creates soundscapes that feel simultaneously cinemascopic and deeply intimate. Their development as songwriters and musicians couldn’t be more clear than on their third full-length record, Elegy, which is not only their most complete and transfixing record to date, but also one of the finest metal albums to be released this year.
As mentioned briefly above, Elegy wouldn’t be a Dead to a Dying World record without a smorgasbord of talented guest musicians in tow. Alongside Mike Yeager and Heidi Moore’s stirring vocalizations, Jarboe (Ed-Swans), Dylan Desmond (Bell Witch), and Emil Rapstine (The Angelus) lend their talents to multiple of the album’s tracks. Thor Harris (also ex-Swans) provides supporting instrumentation as well, rounding off a veritable who’s-who of post-rock and doom metal royalty. But all of these guest features are pointless if their contributions don’t help create great music, and here, thankfully, their talents elevate the music to stunning highs. Opener “Syzygy” kicks off the proceedings with an almost Bell Witchian vibe of highly melodic, post-tinged doom that is utterly arresting. Strings serenade low and powerful in the mix, humming with an understated power that accentuates Yeager’s froggish baritone, leading a destitute choir in a song of death and renewal. It’s an utterly perfect opening, setting the tone for the album’s first proper banger.
Consisting of six total tracks, the album is essentially broken down into two pieces: shorter, highly melodic interludes, followed by epic, 10+ minute post-doom eruptions. “The Seer’s Embrace” kicks off this sequence of epic tracks in full regalia, featuring a prominent string section while vacillating between merciless heaviness and ominous, softer moments of contemplation with ease. The next two tracks on the album follow suit, and present some of the most beautiful instrumentation and composition on the record, particularly “Empty Hands, Hollow Hymns”, which has a soulful introduction that’s to die for. The effective instrumental and songwriting components of these tracks are further elevated by Billy Anderson’s fantastic production work, which allows these melodies the band has meticulously crafted to be fully realized without being overly fussy or obstructive of the raw nature of the performances. Epic closing track “Of Moss and Stone” spends its 14 minutes putting Anderson’s production, as well as the band’s improved songwriting capabilities, on full display, capping off Elegy in appropriately titanic fashion.
There are few bands in metal that sound like Dead to a Dying World, and Elegy further cements their unique and important place in this corner of the musical world. The songwriting here is various and on the whole superb, with instrumental and vocal performances more than capable of wringing every last drop of emotional impact from these compositions. If you listened to the band’s 2011 sophomore record Litany and wondered how they could possibly build upon it, let Elegy serve as a rousing declaration of Dead to a Dying World’s continued creative excellence. It may have taken four years to get here, but Elegy proves itself a record well worth the wait.