Dark Castle – Surrender to All Life Beyond Form

Posted on July 6, 2011

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Profound Lore

5/31/2011

The second full-length by Dark Castle is a collection of sludgy doom jams boasting blast beats, psychedelic chants and isolated acoustic flourishes, played by a chick and dude duo who manage to create more cacophony than many bands twice their size. Jack and Meg they are not. Maybe a bit like Jucifer, but instead of a wall of guitars, Stevie Floyd’s tone resembles Greg Anderson funneling his subterranean frequencies through Josh Homme’s infamous bass head. It’s an unholy sound that becomes manifest a mere minute into the opening title track, after the aforementioned chanting and blast beats, in that order. Dark Castle employ this dynamic to great effect on a few songs, but unfortunately, what is used as a means to unpredictability eventually becomes another formula: Trippy ambience, to agonized, fucked up doom, to subtle-then-obvious tempo change. “Heavy Eyes” and “Stare into Absence” follow it almost to a T, the former building to a twisted, bent note-drenched meltdown and the latter segueing from grating feedback and the finest sequence of riffs on the whole record to subdued reverb and a funereal fadeout.

Perhaps it’s Surrender to All Life Beyond Form’s brevity that distorts its power. We’re normally used to this genre being all about vast soundscapes of peaks and valleys, spread out over suitably epic-length songs, but the entire album could squeeze onto one side of any selection from labelmates (and current tourmates) YOB’s discography. Thus, the decision to splice in numerous interludes and general weirdness throughout a sub-35 minute record is confusing. “Create an Impulse” and the rhetorically named “Spirit Ritual” counter the crushing bombast around them with Middle Eastern-tinged modals and layered monastic mantras, respectively. Haunting? Yes, but also somewhat out of place on an album brimming with such raw hostility. In the context of, say, Cobalt (also labelmates), Jarboe’s piercing notes contextualize the nihilism within, but here the steadily layered female vocals are just a break from the heavy. Drummer Rob Schaffer’s undulating analogue synths compliment “To Hide Is to Die”’s rhythmic spoken word quite nicely, the steady pulse lending life to Floyd’s cryptic, manipulated creed. Out of the numerous experiments, it’s the only one that truly fits on an album that, given its time constraint, should be stomping on necks rather than placing a pillow underneath them.

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