originally written by Chris McDonald
Going into this review, I realized I could analyze the long-awaited conclusion to Deathspell Omega’s trilogy in two ways; as some mystical statement of philosophical intent miraculously bestowed on the metal world through metaphysical entities disguised as musicians, or as a metal album. Both paths are suitable for the kind of art Deathspell Omega makes, but for the sake of my sanity and your attention span I’m going to review Paracletus for what most listeners should see it as, and that’s a metal album. And, as a metal album, its not very good, and I’m quite disappointed by it.
Deathspell Omega has been operating “ahead of the curve” since Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, a groundbreaking if overblown introduction to the band’s new modus operandi. While Si Monumentum was a strong release, the band really peaked with lengthy EP Kénôse, a brilliant middle-ground between the more digestible pacing of Si Monumentum and the manic progressive nature which they would soon pursue. After that, the band released Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum and my infatuation waned, for in the interest of being as complex and impenetrable as possible, Deathspell Omega had ventured into something of a musical dead zone. Anyone who doesn’t completely have their head up their own ass knows there was about five to ten minutes of actual worthwhile music on that album, but because its Deathspell Omega, the legions of bewildered fans had to pretend to like it, or risk looking stupid in the eyes of the more intelligent, philosophical metalheads. In shrouding themselves with as much anonymity as possible and bumping up the philosophical mysterioso-factor of their music and image, the band has effectively shielded themselves from any criticism of their work. It’s the classic “get people to like your art by making them feel stupid if they don’t” motif.
My point with all of this is, Deathspell Omega have achieved such a high rank on the elitist food chain that actual discussion of their music has become secondary. People shrug off any crappy moments on their CDs as just a failure to “understand” their greater significance, or chalking it up to the band being “purposely” bad because they’re just that damn smart. Thing is, following the headache-inducing Fas and the convoluted Chaining the Katcheon EP, Deathspell Omega’s mask has slipped, and I now feel confident in my appraisal that Paracletus is simply a mediocre album, not some mind-shatteringly brilliant masterpiece that I’m “not getting.”
Ironically enough, Paracletus is disappointing for the exact opposite reason that Fas was. While the overly drum-heavy production and absurdly abstract arrangements rendered most of Fas’s intense moments a formless wall of noise, the vast majority of the music on Paracletus is readily accessible to the listener — problem is, most of it is boring as hell. Much of the band’s blistering riffwork and drumming has been replaced with lots of mid-paced, limp-wristed progressive/jazz melodies that effectively strip the songs of the furious momentum and sinister energy this project was known for. These elements have been present in various forms since the band’s rebirth on Si Monumentum, but they almost take center stage on Paracletus, and while they’re far from unlistenable and even enjoyable at times, this is not what I turn to Deathspell Omega for. Without a more stable metallic core, this aspect of the band’s sound lacks the anchor that would otherwise make it effective at breaking up the pace. Instead, it feels like we get little snippets of blasting black metal filling in the gaps between the mid-tempo noodling.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that this sudden love for wimpy melodic plucking has even snaked its way into the band’s “black metal” segments. Third track “Abscission” clashes thunderous blastbeats with dull, meandering strumming for a full six minutes with little in the way of dynamics or narrative flow, and the jumpy little riff at the beginning of “Have You Beheld the Fevers?” is surprisingly irritating. For fuck’s sake guys, you’re Deathspell Omega —TREMOLO PICK SOMETHING! This lack of significant musical substance is especially problematic considering Paracletus’s short length; at just over forty-two minutes, this LP is only a tad longer than the Kénôse EP, but it feels like there’s about a third as much worthwhile material as on that release. Almost half of the songs here seem more like interludes than full blown compositions, and it makes the album as a whole feel unsubstantial and generally unsatisfying.
But what’s most disappointing, especially for fans that have been following the band’s progression over the last several years, is that Paracletus doesn’t take Deathspell Omega in any new directions; it doesn’t even seem to want to. There isn’t really anything explored on here that we haven’t heard before from the band, and the few new touches peppered in typically do more harm than good (namely, the horrible French spoken word segments). While Fas stumbled with its musical execution, few would argue that the album broke down barriers and took the idea of black metal in an entirely new direction that people never would have considered before. Paracletus feels more like a simplified version of Fas, and at this point its not enough for the band to reenact former glories, especially when the results are this uninteresting. We’ve all heard the techy black metal riffs, the free-form growling vocals, the spidery melodic touches; these things simply aren’t enough to carry the band by themselves anymore.
Paracletus isn’t a complete shitkick by any means—album centerpiece “Phosphene” is a pretty ripping track that dishes out some truly demented riffwork that harkens back to the Kénôse days, and “Devouring Famine” and “Apokatastasis Pantôn” close the album with a nice tandem of blackened madness and epic, dramatic tremolo figures. Truth is, this album is filled with neat little riffs and neat little bits, but for every awesome moment Paracletus delivers, it pads it with two that are either boring, wimpy, or simply incomprehensible. It’s a shame to see a once outstanding project close out its master trilogy in such ho-hum fashion, but I can’t honestly say I’m too surprised to see Deathspell Omega take a bath like this; its been obvious that the band’s musical aspirations have taken a backseat to their intellectual ones for several years now. Paracletus makes it frustratingly obvious that these elusive Frenchmen are still capable of making art both progressively minded and musically engaging, if only they’d allow themselves to do so. Hopefully future releases will see Deathspell Omega play more off of the strengths that made them legends to begin with.