One of the things that seems most consistently difficult to understand for people who don’t particularly like heavy metal is just how it is that it can be soothing and meditative. And certainly, if you told some of the teenaged hellraisers who essentially got extreme metal off the ground by refusing to settle for anything but the fastest, heaviest, angriest frontier that some fancy-pants dipshit in the future would prattle on about heavy metal as a centering therapy, you’d likely have received a visitation of scorn and a perfect arc of chucked beer bottles.
Nonetheless, the second album from Texas’s Dead to a Dying World is, if nothing else, a fissure of rich atmosphere and contemplation. It’s still loud, sometimes fast, and plenty pissed, but the throughline is a sort of mossy indwelling. This is music for walking into a forest and putting down roots with the lichen and the bone-white moon. The sounds throughout Litany are all familiar – humid, earthen black metal, the chamber-goth lilt of Worm Ouroborus or Amber Asylum, the atmospheric crust of Downfall of Gaia and Nux Vomica, and the omnipresent shadow of Neurosis via Godspeed You Black Emperor – but that fact helps rather than hurts the album. Litany sounds like a conversation between old friends: easy, warm, and knowing.
Although standout moments are spread judiciously throughout these long songs – often with an unexpected vocal cadence or by tipping into an earth-shaking doom riff – the album actually feels like a single piece, a landscape in which to search for fine detail but also in which to simply breathe. In truth, this is what I wish False’s album from earlier this year had sounded like. Litany is more subtle, more mournful, and makes much better use of dynamics, which means that its best moments feel much more explosive.
The slow burning intro of “Eventide,” for example, makes excellent use of the strings, chiming and coiling with a similar reedy grandeur to Giant Squid or SubRosa. Elsewhere, Dead to a Dying World strikes a curious but sonorous note, speaking like the unexpected colloquy of the Ocean circa Fluxion and Circle Takes the Square. A clean vocal break early in the album’s opener “The Hunt Eternal” sounds very much like Pallbearer, thanks to guest vocals from that band’s Brett Campbell. But this is how it goes: notes sound, voices echo, and a world is built from things that feel ancient and lived-in. “Beneath the Loam” takes more than eight minutes to fully rise, but when it finally bursts into a furious clamor of screeching and blast beats, it feels like the death and birth of all good things.
The only real criticism is that the mix is warm but too muddled. In the heavier sections when everyone is churning and clattering away, it feels like the songs could benefit from sharper contrast to really bring out the nuance of each voice. The drumming, in particular, sounds like it’s struggling to break through a pile of blankets. It’s a minor complaint, though, and always overridden by these engrossing performances, these songs and their soft angles.
This is mood music for unsettled times, and as such Dead to a Dying World appropriately traffics in two seemingly contradictory impulses: the urge to flail, accuse, and castigate, and the willingness to turn away from the same and seek an older peace. Make a choice to drink from the deeper, patient roots.