[Artwork by C.S.R / SAROS Collective]
As young children, humans tend to be categorized and labeled by their peers. Some of those children are labeled weird or freak or merely “other”—an outcast to spend recess sitting on the edge of the woods or off in a corner playing with sticks. Often times these children, sent off to fend for themselves and live among their own imagination, grow up to be not only creative and self-sufficient, but also successful in multiple regards. Other times, these children remain outcasts living on the fringes of society. They might spend the rest of their life quietly bagging groceries while conquering dragons and castles in their mind’s eye, or they might merely putter along at their desk job punching in at nine sharp and leaving just before five in the evening (seventeen hundred hours if they join the military). The point is, these children will grow up along the same paths, tracks and opportunities that all other children develop along as well. They might even outlast and outpace many of them.
Schammasch is in the latter camp. The band has taken fantastic leaps of faith during their career. The year two thousand and sixteen saw them releasing a triple disc effort surpassing the one hundred minute mark. That album, aptly titled Triangle, was on the heels of a two disc effort, Contradiction, that ended somewhere in the eighty-fourth minute. The point here is Schammasch hasn’t made an effort to make it easy or simple to digest their music. They have purposefully eschewed the seemingly easier lifestyle of raw black metal with rote themes in favor of avant-garde music laced with artistic fervor and experimental blending of music. And isn’t that how most great art is made?
Making things easy for interpretation is the path of Warhol, Lichtenstein and other pop artists. That is not the path of Schammasch. Their path might be paved with rejection by superficial critics, but it’s the obsession by those who take the time and effort to weave their personal emotion and imagination into the output that make Schammasch special. Scattering ambient and atmospheric sections throughout Hearts of No Light, interlaced with strikingly emotional lyrics (a la Tryptikon) makes for an album that must be viewed from multiple angles, like an Abakanowicz sculpture or Rauschenberg painting. It might take some work, but as humans have discovered from learning how to consume chestnuts or walnuts, there is great reward in hard work.
Riffs move through tracks like giant whales twisting and turning in the deep. Whales moving so far below the surface of the ocean that mere ripples are all that are visible to human eyes. Yet, deep in the liquid abyss, currents are created in swirling tornadoes of force that would capture and drown any human that entered. The whales churn peacefully, acknowledging each other with deep moans and songs of friendship, oblivious to the dangers exposed by their patterns of play and feeding.
Given the sheer length of their previous LPs it should come as no surprise that Schammasch appreciate going all in on the intro and ascension—a beautiful piano plucks out a sullen melody, soon joined by tom drums. “Winds That Pierce the Silence” builds through a few false crescendos before exploding into warm, comforting black metal that digests like warm Earl Grey on a foggy Welsh morning. The harsh vocals are similarly comforting as they veer away from shrill or raw and remain rather controlled, hurled like well thought-out commands given in the heat of passion. There is a romance and seductiveness to the lush landscape invented by Schammasch.
“Qadmon’s Heir” (Qadmon himself being the Kabbalistic (“primordial man”)) provides a blistering, chaotic take on the theories of divine light. It’s sonically the myth of both creation and destruction happening in the same instant thousands of years apart, like a rift in the space / time continuum. The track opens quickly and then recedes (contraction / withdrawal) before it hurls itself (breaking of the vessels) into the mayhem of creation. In this creation both good and evil are unleashed into the world. The disharmony creates the ignition that will eventually create and shape human life in its image. It is not until the latter third of the track that the concept of tiqqun (restoration) is reinstated as the construction of the divine realm take shape. Make no mistake, Schammasch is setting forth to retell the Lurianic tale of Creation’s trilogy.
The most shockingly stark track on the album, “A Paradigm of Beauty,” slowly meanders out of the bog of black metal into a realm of more traditional heavy metal. A chorus, also the song’s title, is cleanly sung in an ardent, devout manner. Where dissonant, staccato chords once populated the landscape, triumphant stadium-sized riffs trounce in like a herd of elephants to rouse the neurons of emotion lying dormant in the brain of the listener. Heart and mind become one as the track marches towards its drastic conclusion highlighted by melodic, undercutting solos drenched in chorus frolic and play. Compositionally, the track has more in common with Ihsahn than it does more conveniently comparable artists. And it works… Oh, how it works.
These tracks are not simply put forth as offerings to the masses. Hearts of No Light is a work in itself, a work that must be viewed in totality. While there are different musical concepts and different methods of storytelling throughout, the main message is one of disharmony, chaos and fury out of which those things that we cherish will be born. Fall to your knees, anoint your head with the purest of oils and prepare for the light of the divine to tear through your soul and populate history with your greatest personal tragedies.