Disclaimer: This is not a DSBM album.
For some odd reason, “depressive” black metal gets associated with a certain trope of mournful, angsty sadboys drooping around their candlelit bedrooms and gazing up softly at the picture of Robert Smith they have over their four-poster bed (the one that gets covered with the Xasthur poster when friends come over). Sure, apathy and gloom can be effects of depression, but it’s so much more than that. Depression is constant war, and it always feels as though the defense is the one on the brink of losing everything. It’s war against self-doubt. It’s war against those intrusive thoughts that won’t just fuck off already. It’s war to the point of questioning one’s very sanity. Confidence in reality becomes shattered as every action or statement becomes suspect, and a loss of any modicum of belief in the self turns to paranoia. The victim is left questioning every word or potential slight of others, which leads to overthinking, over-interpreting, self-isolating, or worse until it turns to pure fucking madness. In other words, depression. is. hell. Of course, on the exterior the person just seems glum or down—that is, if they haven’t mastered the fine art of totally disconnecting. This surface level is a mask, and the gloomy sadboys are but grazing the ostensible perception of depression. They are only focusing on one head of the hydra, a singular facet of something that burns much deeper beneath the cloak of sorrow.
Relatos de Angustia strikes its first few notes out of the leering hum of feedback as the skeleton of the melody behind “Praeludium” is formed. As the full band emerges from the shadows, the clarity of production is instantly noted: everything just sounds crisp and unmolested. The full depth of this lucidity is apparent as the song bleeds over into the first complete track, “Deafening Wailing Of The Desperate Ones,” with the two guitars dancing around one another in a macabre waltz of separate yet complementary melodies. Throughout the course of the album, they fluidly push and pull towards and away from one another like twisting strands of DNA, bonded by the base pairs of the rhythm section. The aforementioned conflict with unwanted thoughts comes to mind, moving back and forth like synapses firing across the tormented consciousness. The true, unbridled angst in the vocals feel delivered from the stance of the inner voice, crying out with frustration and anger in retaliation, forever pushing back at the maddening indifference of the guitars, for they are forever fixated on one another regardless of the will of the mind they so relentlessly torture.
The drums add to the torment, slinging fills relentlessly across the soundscapes of “The Depths Of Selfishness” in a deprecating barrage of conscious battering. Rich, warm, and resonating toms thunder within the hollows of the skull, as though attempting to beat the very life out of the demons plaguing the very soul at unrest. The cymbals splash, chime, sizzle, and clink from left to right, ringing out as chains that bind the spirit down as it writhes against the weight of smothering blackness. Relatos de Angustia is incredibly dynamic, with every minuscule detail ringing clearly. The album demands it, as the subtle quirks, crinkles, and cracks carry the impact of chasms against the occasional wash of atonality and the angular, left-of-center song construction of “The Weight Of Breathing.” The bits of cleaner vocals, still beneath the fog of uncertainty, wind up the tension on the track before the full fury of the band is released. It hits a more straightforward style of black metal at the peak, complete with a wash of tremolo. Its prior sparing usage adds to the impact, as though Selbst are returning to the source in a primal manner. While the musicianship on the album is previously a bit more controlled and refined, the onslaught of aggression feels like pure release, crying out with resistance against the tormenting beauty of duality that comprises the majority of the record’s time.
If the chasm opened on “The Weight Of Breathing,” then it straight rips the soul of the band apart on “Sculpting The Dirtiness Of Existence.” The slower, more plodding pace never loses the energy that’s been built as the symphony of guitars creeps its way up to a crescendo of misanthropy and blight. As soon as it feels one instrument has locked into a groove, another begins shifting and changing. Selbst manage to balance, exuding the instability of mental suffering without ever losing control of that sense of melody or overcooking the music to the point of collapsing under its own weight. The final minutes of the song are of the finest moments on a record packed with exceptional builds—the triumphant riff a final cry of anguish as the world crumbles before it. The solo that climaxes the record on the closing track of “Let The Pain Run Through” serves as a final enlightenment in the darkness, breaking the cycle of interplaying thoughts and grappling the demons and boldly proclaiming, “I will not be controlled by you.” The penultimate moment of the album winds down into hefty choirs and harrowing clean vocals to reflect a coming to terms of sitting with the darkness and being one with it as the album’s end meets the silence, leaving the listener alone with their own breathing, heartbeat, and thoughts. It’s an acceptance, and therefore ultimate conquering of the plague that binds Selbst to their source of anguish.
Polished in execution but raw in it’s emotional delivery, Relatos de Angustia burns with the spirit that’s kept black metal alive in its modern incarnation. Its merit is judged on a feeling and on a gut instinct as opposed to a strictly objective musicianship, songwriting, production value, or technical mastery—though all four of these elements are present and exceptionally executed. What makes Selbst stand out so much is that Relatos de Angustia ultimately dominates both sides of the coin, utilizing skill without losing touch with primal, feral emotions that they manifest from their muse, finding the beauty in the eternal struggle against all-consuming negativity.