Deathcode Society – Unlightenment Review

A common science fiction trope is the idea of infinite parallel universes, where each decision we make sets off a cascade of subsequent events both in our own universe as well as in the ones where we made a different choice. Even as we speak, I can imagine at least six alternate timelines where I, a silly writer, recommend to you, a smart and canny reader, the second album from France’s Deathcode Society.

Universe A: I am a salmon, hurrying desperately upstream to my spawning grounds. You are a grizzly bear, and as you chomp down on my slippery flesh, I squeak, “Recommended for fans of Anorexia Nervosa’s Redemption Process!”

Universe B: You are a construction worker toiling in the noontime heat on the interstate. I am a sentient billboard, mostly content to flex my “Fines doubled in work zone” muscles, but when you glance up at me I am careful to share my secret message: “Remember how awesome Dimmu Borgir’s Death Cult Armageddon is?”

Universe C: We are both hydrogen atoms in the sun’s core. Just before being converted to helium, I nudge you conspiratorially and whisper, “So, whole lotta early Ihsahn solo materials in this Deathcode Society, eh?”

Universe D: I am waiting to go through airport security. You are an X-ray detector. I have strategically arranged a large handful of miniature metal thumbtacks on a piece of cardboard in my backpack that spells out, “Psst, do you remember Seth’s La Morsure du Christ?” I am immediately tackled by a German shepherd. (Not a dog. An actual shepherd from Germany. This universe is weird.)

Universe E: I am your Discogs wantlist. You are my bank account. There is no intrinsic connection between the two of us but I send an electronic spark bouncing off the satellites that gives you a sudden craving to drink deep the entire catalog of Belgium’s Enthroned.

Universe F: You are Imelda Marcos. I am a pair of expensive shoes that do not quite fit. Just before you throw me out the window I tap out a hasty Morse code message that reads, “I wonder if these Frenchmen are fans of Keep of Kalessin.”

(Hugo Award Committee, I humbly await your call.)

In this universe, I suppose I ought to tell you that Unlightenment, the second album from France’s Deathcode Society, is a ferocious and intricate bit of symphonic black metal. There is a nearly omnipresent current of orchestration, but it is so well balanced with the sharp edges of the guitars and the gleeful puttering of the bass that no element ever overpowers the other. The album’s opening track “Scolopendra” storms in with exactly the kind of sweeping, tempestuous, yet meticulously clear riffing and blasting that defines the album as a whole. The guitars (courtesy of dual axemen David and Michael) snake around in a dive-bombing 6/8 time with subtle keys shadowing their melody, while vocalist and principal songwriter Arnhwald snarls and sneers his way through a powerhouse performance.

Release date: November 24, 2023. Label: Osmose Productions.
“Shards” puts an even heavier emphasis on the bombast of the orchestral keyboard arrangements, especially in a half-time middle section that features an almost theremin-like tone wandering away in the background. That section also clears the way for a huge passage of impassioned clean vocals that functions in a very similar way to ICS Vortex’s work with Dimmu Borgir. “Shards” also puts a spotlight on the wonderfully busy work of bass guitarist Nicolas. Particularly in a genre like black metal that is sometimes pilloried for a comical lack of bass, Nicolas’s performance across the album is noteworthy, not just for its presence but for its role in underlining guitar melodies, offering its own melodic counterpoint, and just letting loose with quarter- and eighth-note runs that offer a beefed-up parallel to drummer Grégoire’s Nick Barker-styled deft hammering.

Even at a relatively hefty 52 minutes, Unlightenment never really drags, in large part due to smart little songwriting flourishes that mix things up. “Scales” is one of the most notable examples, opening up with a section of a capella chanting vocals that, especially when reprised with the rippling chug of the guitars towards the song’s end, gives it a ritualistic feeling similar to late-period Rotting Christ. Elsewhere, the snaky guitar harmonics in the verses of “Mazed Interior” really dial up the Ihsahn vibes (circa Adversary/angL). The ten-minute “A La Neante” covers a lot of stylistic ground, from sparse atmospherics to jutting, jet-black progressive weirdness and back again to light-speed blasting. In and around all of these movements you might also hear echoes of Limbonic Art, 1349, Arcturus, or Imperium Dekadenz, but most of all you will hear a confident, professional band making aggressive, devastatingly sleek metal that is just a whole lot of fun.

From where I stand, the future is unwritten. Some of the more pessimistic of the speculative fiction writers out there might disagree, but to them I say: each of us is now perched on the precipice of two fractionally different universes – one in which we open our ears to Deathcode Society’s rambunctiously excellent Unlightenment, and one in which we wander in glum, perpetual lameness.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

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