To fans of some of the greatest atmospheric, somewhat “avant-garde” works in the history of black metal, Boston’s Dzö-nga provides a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, The Sachem’s Tale provides a damn fine, occasionally stunning foray into the style that calls to mind some truly wonderful influences. On the other hand, however, it never quite reaches the heights of these influences, which is often the case with young bands.
On the other, other hand, however however, The Sachem’s Tale is already the second full length album from songwriter / instrumentalist / vocalist Cryvas and vocalist Grushenka Ødegård, and the band formed just last year. The type of passion and promise hinted at by such rapid production, in conjunction with the truth that the album is more-often-than-not quite nice, gives Dzö-nga an exciting element that extends beyond the music on the record.
The most obvious influence that Dzö-nga can’t quite live up to but nevertheless pays great homage to is In the Woods, specifically their classic debut HEart of the Ages. The Sachem’s Tale has that same airy, “nature-minded” ( sounds of rain and… crickets?), melodic-long-game approach to black metal. The piano, strings, and beautiful female vocals also give the album that same “almost avant-garde” feel as HEart. (Folksy guitar passages and great church organ at the end of “Against the Northern Wind” also don’t hurt this vibe.) In short, this is Very Pretty Black Metal, the type that only really appeals to a certain subset of black metal fans (those typically not wearing corpsepaint), but appealing to them very, very much.
Where The Sachem’s Tale most varies from its greatest influence is also where Dzö-nga gains their most notable bit of uniqueness: through the (occasional) ferocity of the black metal passages. The combination of blazing double-kicks, cutting tremolo lines, and Cryvas’ quite harsh vocal delivery means that when Dzö-nga reaches full black metal, it is quite a bit more vitriolic than anything one would hear on an In the Woods or Summoning album. That such passages can remain absolutely gorgeous (see a key moment during “To the Great Salt Water”) makes one think of the best of Quebecois black metal. Blazing, but beautiful.
The true quality of The Sachem’s Tale comes not from individual moments, however, but from the band’s deliberate pace for almost everything. Sure, the blasting gets lightning fast, but the development of melodies and ideas is a slow burn, and Dzö-nga’s ability to achieve both tension and resolution in this manner is the deepest evidence of both the band’s existing talent and potential.
As stated above, The Sachem’s Tale falls short of its most obvious influences, but considering the influences, this is not exactly a knock. The way up for Dzö-nga is really only a matter of refinement. Refinement of the balance between the unabashedly gorgeous passages and the blazing black metal; and refinement of the songcraft to accentuate both the tension and resolution. The passion, the undeniable feel for this type of material is already there, but some expected growth for this already very good band could result in something truly remarkable.