First of all, apologies for this review coming after the release date, but with Silence Lives Out/Over Whirlpool, slow is the name of the game. The Belgian one-man act has been on a bit of an interesting evolutionary arc over the last twelve years, weaving the more ambient drone approach on their earlier works with the more weighted aspects of funeral doom on III – Gaïa and IV – Mythologiæ. 2017’s V – Oceans brought it all together in a vast opus, with project mastermind Déhà bringing in a bit of outside help on lyrics and concepts in the form of Lore. This proved to be a winning combination, as Oceans marked the most fully realized and flawlessly executed work of the band to that point. Now Lore is a full-time member of the band, taking up bass duties as well as continuing to contribute to the songwriting department on Slow’s latest effort, VI – Dantalion.
Not only do Slow master one of the keys of funeral doom – logically and gracefully filling the space between the labored downbeats – but they master one of the other elusive qualities of an enigmatic genre: the ability to concisely narrate a full work without getting lost amongst dirgey tempos. Tracks like “Futilité” are still vast and seemingly bottomless, yet are always moving forward. While both of these characteristics were utilized with great success on Oceans, being able to pull it off again is no simple task. This one song alone moves through builds and crescendos before working back down to a bit of the minimalist piano work at the beginning of the album before building back up to an epic conclusion. It’s a logical move, but never loses the emotion that drives the music.
“Lacune” may well be the most defining track on the release. The haunting manner in which the keys dance between the more death/doom approach to the rhythm and guitars, darting through the sinister orchestrals and the echoing megalith growls of the vocals, is enough to send chills up the spine of any individual still hanging desperately onto their sanity. As the song drops, the simple yet emotive guitar leads and Lore’s soft spoken word hovering just out of reach sets up a feeling of hope that gets barreled through by the return of the weight of the overwhelming ensemble, grappling everything in its path like the weight of a guilty conscious. As the track builds again, the orchestrals become more panicked and the drums begin to fill more and more space, adding an urgency to the rising of the beast before suddenly dropping back into an quiet outro. Almost as suddenly, it is resurrected at the beginning of “Incendiarie,” the final epic conclusion to the encounter with Dantalion. Slow pull out all the stops, layers upon layers of backing vocals beneath the growls and rolling kicks, wailing strings and ethereal choirs, and a piano that finally feels like its found strength and confidence amongst a sea of hopelessness. And the real kicker is how brilliantly it’s all arranged. Just when they feel like they’re peaking, Slow take it to the next level, cascading feelings of love and loss, fear and confidence, hopelessness and determination, all into the effigy of the demon of not only arts and sciences, but also of emotion and empathy. The true final track, “Elégie,” plays out like an epilogue of soft synths and classical guitar, drawing the listener back into comforting arms. The piano returns with a familiar melody, finally taking the spotlight and emerging from the encounter with Dantalion transformed, seemingly for the better.
At the beginning, Dantalion may not be a far leap from Oceans in terms of its mechanics. However, by the midpoint, it serves as a seamless transition from the previous work into newer realms. The latter half of the record breaks fresh ground, incorporating new levels of songwriting that more than adequately translate the band’s expression into music that speaks naturally with the souls of those who put the time into the experience. This is not a record for idle listening, but a work that requires focus, and simultaneously, letting go and just allowing oneself to become lost in it. Slow channel emotion in a way that feels contradictory. Dantalion is both graceful and powerful; raw feelings channeled into a refined beauty that is both melancholy and triumphant. Slow serve their demonic muse well, reflecting the Duke’s many faces that comprise a single entity with the power to control the thoughts and emotions of earthly beings in the form of a larger than life record that still manages to feel… human.