The unfortunate reality about diving ass-over-ankles into the mystical forests and blood-stained steppes of extreme metal (or any other niche art-form, for that matter) is that the longer one spends banging the heads that will not bang and frowning the frowns that will not frown, the joy of hearing something completely new is irretrievably lost. To wit: I bought Opeth’s Blackwater Park on an absolutely blind whim, and as much as I still love the album, I’m pretty sure that what I really love is my recollection of first experiencing the album, free of any prior understanding or expectation. I mean, it’s not like trading childlike wonder for aspirations to encyclopedic metal-nerd-dom is the world’s biggest heartbreak, but still, there’s no girlfriend like your first girlfriend.
All of this is mere preface to the point: I had no idea who or what the fuck Dodecahedron was before giving this album a whirl, and even if I’m in a position now to be able to contextualize and trace the lineage of the album, it’s a rare thing indeed for a brand new band to jump straight out of Zeus’s head with such a fully- and finely-realized debut album that slaps me in the mouth and knocks me flat on my ass. Dodecahedron is a startlingly good album, and although none of its components are entirely novel, their particular combination results in fifty-odd minutes of fresh and mostly thrilling post-black metal acrobatics.
The gut-level feeling I get from Dodecahedron is that of a very compelling fusion of Deathspell Omega and Dødheimsgard, taking the dark and winding dissonance of recent Deathspell, but playing it with the lightness of touch that DHG perfected on 666 International. Dodecahedron never really tips the scales into full-on industrial/black metal turf, however, and the overall sound is more cosmic than claustrophobic. Atonal chamber metal without the baroque stuffiness of Deathspell, but still with a whiff of futurism (without any of the overt mechanical signifiers of Dødheimsgard), this paranoid Dutch racket should also appeal to those of you who have welcomed the recent efforts from Aosoth and Axis of Perdition into your wee bastard hearts.
Dodecahedron’s songs are lengthy, multi-section affairs that take frequent detours into dark ambience, eerie atmospherics, decayed electronics, buried shrieks and other samples, and unsettling synths. Still, as many tangents as the songs entertain, each song has a primary riff or motif that is artfully introduced, developed, twisted, and reused, meaning that the songs never devolve into thoughtlessly cut-and-pasted riff-buckets (as so often happens with new bands). The midsection of album opener “Allfather,” for example, sees the bass guitar revisit the guitar riff that opened the song and forms its principle motif, before the voicing eventually returns to the guitar. Meanwhile, “I, Chronocrator” crackles with a restless, mathy punk energy that almost comes across like Converge gone black metal.
Despite how well the five-piece band functions as a together-pulsing unit, it also feels like a gravity well, sucking in all rhythms and sounds with a few spiraling off to make an unpredictable escape. One of the most consistently captivating aspects of Dodecahedron’s sound is the nervous, propulsive energy of drummer J. Barendregt, whose tremendous rhythm work suggests the skittering, fill-heavy approach of Mastodon’s Brann Dailor in a black metal context. See in particular the early minutes of “Vanitas,” where his freeform fills sketch out a jazz fusion foundation for the rest of the band’s doomed lurching and some effectively bilious robo-vocodered vocals. Then, listen in awe as the entire band falls together into a massive Gojira-inspired breakdown around the six-minute mark.
With equal parts harsh noise and soothing ambience, “Descending Jacob’s Ladder” is a suitably creepy interlude that neatly bridges the album’s two halves. The second half of the album is made up of a three-part suite entitled “View from Hverfell” that really shows off both the range of stylistic touches and the deft compositional glue with which Dodecahedron keeps them naturally fitted together. The second part of “View from Hverfell” provides some of the most straightforward black metal moments of the album, with blasting drums and frenetic tremolo work in jagged, scything patterns. Still, the structure of the tremolo riffs and the fluid pull of the drums means that even these moments fit at best uneasily into the second wave’s genre trope, instead threatening at any moment to pull back into a stutter groove, or trip headlong into dissonant acoustic plunking and unseen things plodding in the crepuscular distance.
There’s likely enough bluster and bile on Dodecahedron to satisfy a few black metal traditionalists, but this sumptuous feast is really intended for fans of the genre’s avant-garde wing. This is one of those albums that words can only do a poor justice, and which begs to be heard in all its shimmering black layers and chest-wracking vitriol by the part inside all of us that hungers ceaselessly after the unheard and the unexpected, the radio signal from a dead planet. The old sounds are the safe sounds; cut loose your moorings and get hurt by the new noise.