It’s Sunday morning. I’m tired and am already on my third review of the day. I was going to pack it in, for fear of falling asleep over the keyboard and then I stuck Dirge ‘Elysian Magnetic fields’ into the player. Opening with static discharge and feedback I feared the gentle lullaby of post rock would be too much for my exhausted senses only for a MASSIVE, corroded Neurosis-style riff to come surging over me like a tidal wave and I knew that I needed to write this review as I listened – recording the emotion and sonic impact of a record that seemed likely to knock me clean out of my teeny cotton socks.
He band are described in the promo material thusly: “French veteran of neurotic posthardcore, Dirge are back with ‘Elysian magnetic fields’. A brand new album composed of 8 pieces of art guiding you through a passageway between wonder and magnificence.” Now, I didn’t really believe it either. It seemed, I don’t know, too good to be true, or perhaps just overly confident, but the truth is that the press release quoted above barely does the astonishing music in question justice and such is the depth of the band’s musical detail that although I tried to do this review on the first run through it took another few listens just to appreciate the depth and breadth of their ambition. And then I went out to buy the vinyl to appreciate it some more. Seriously, this is a phenomenal release and for those who mourn the loss of Isis, Dirge more than just step up to the plate of that mighty band and that is not a comparison or claim to be made lightly. With not a track-listing in sight, the music ebbs and flows across its eight tracks, sometimes exploding into bursts of scintillating light, at other moments fading away to almost nothing, but always present and always interesting. The layers are dense and the production imbues the riffs with a sort of broken luminescence of the type that Justin Broadrick employs so well on Jesu and neurosis have spent a decade perfecting. It’s an intense, unnerving listening experience that sends chills down the spine and it sounds utterly monumental, original, heavy and yet beautiful all at once. Close contemporaries aside form Neurosis might include The ocean, who have created some of the most astonishing music of the last decade, as well as Isis and it is not an exaggeration to state that Dirge would not be overpowered or outmatched by any one of them.
Moving into the third track strings appear in the mix, quietly embellishing the sledgehammer guitars and adding a brief touch of sweetness to the generally dark mix. Vocals are largely possessed of a rage and focus that recalls the immense ‘celestial’ although moments of calm permeate the murk allowing for a greater balance of light and shade and the keyboard flourishes here are unexpectedly beautiful, once again recalling Jesu’s sun-dappled light, although the bulk of the music here is far heavier. Indeed, such is the overall effect of the tracks here that a track-by-track guide is rendered pointless. Rather it is the emotions you feel and the depth of the music that needs to be related and, in all honesty, words are barely adequate. This is music to drift to, music to lie back and go on a journey with and, like the very best music of its type, it feeds the imagination. Huge instrumental passages permeate the mix and vocals play only a small (albeit essential) part. For much of the time all that the listener can do, and certainly all I did for the first two or three listens, is to sit, slack-jawed at the immensity of the music on offer. Like Swans, much of Dirge’s work relies upon repetition and expansion upon a key theme, but as the music builds and the layers pile on top of one another it’s like a door being opened and glorious light flooding though. It’s beautiful, ugly, stunning and overwhelming all at once and it is one of the finest releases I have ever been sent.
At fifty-five minutes and essentially one long piece of music, this is certainly not something for fans of instant fix music or for something to break up and fling on the Ipod, rather this is a complete musical journey that needs to be taken from start to finish, possibly only with a break to flip the vinyl over (it’s available as a CD or double LP) so that it can truly work its magic on you. Best experienced in a darkened room with the volume up high, this takes your mind wandering across vast vistas of space and time and the beauty is that it will take you to different places every time you indulge in it. This is the ultimate reward of music such as this, and the joy of being transported somewhere new simply by the power of an artist’s imagination cannot be overstated. This is a magical, miraculous record that sits proudly amidst bands such as Neurosis, Isis, Tool and The Ocean. Like those bands the music is timeless and genre-defying. Music such as this goes beyond nationality, or neat pigeon-holing. It simply is a remarkable piece of art that is a shining example of the intelligent, heavy, beautiful music that can be created if only a few people are willing to believe and lend their support. This is a stunning release and unlikely to be bettered this year.