Album Review: Dalit – ‘Descent’

I’ll admit, I’m a bit confused about this album. See, the promo for this album mentions that the release date is 18th of March on it…but my research indicates that the album has actually already been released in August 2015 (and, indeed, the copyright notice on the album says 2015). I’m not entirely sure which is the actual original release date for the record, since there’s a lot of reasons why a record can have different release dates (for example, some records don’t get released outside of their home country, as tends to happen with a lot of Japanese bands, and only get released outside of it due to an international audience’s demand for it and some records get re-released after having been released independently), but it is worth noting the discrepancy all the same, since, for some people, this might look more like a catch up review as opposed to a new review.

Anyway, to fill most people in on Dalit’s history, Dalit are a death/doom metal band from Norway who formed in Stavanger (the fourth largest city in Norway, if you’re wondering) in 2006. The four band members might be familiar to you if you’re really up to date on the Norwegian underground scene, as three of the members are part of the death/black/doom metal band Stronghold and two of the members (no, that’s not an error: one of the members is a member of Stronghold as well!) are part of the death metal band Aspiration and the black/doom metal band Cloth. The band’s discography currently comprises two demos (the imaginatively titled Demo 2007, released in 2007, and Dalit, released in 2008) and a previous studio album (also titled Dalit, released in 2009). Much like Crimson Moonlight (who are on the same label as these guys, funnily enough!), Dalit have been fairly quiet in release terms since then, but made a return with a single in February 2015 and then followed up with this album. The band’s lineup comprises of drummer Cato Gulaker (the aforementioned member of Stronghold, Aspiration and Cloth), guitarists Jon Ivar Larsen (Gulaker’s bandmate in Aspiration and Cloth) and Erlend Trengereid (Gulaker’s bandmate in Stronghold) and bassist and vocalist Eirik Hellem (who is Stronghold’s guitarist and vocalist). The band’s lineup has been completely consistent since the band’s forming, as far as my research has been able to bring up.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m generally not big on doom metal (I do like Black Sabbath and I’ve been interested in checking out doom metal for a while, but all I’ve managed is a few samples of songs by Type O Negative, Blood Ceremony and Subrosa), so I doubt I’ll be saying anything especially deep on this one. That said, though…I have to say that Descent is actually pretty interesting to me. It’s not quite sold me on the subgenre to the same extent that Crimson Moonlight did for death metal (and, to a lesser extent, black metal), but I can’t say that I dislike this record at all!

Dalit_Descent

A not-entirely unreasonable way to sum up this album for newcomers to the genre is to picture Ozzy-era Black Sabbath, but with a death metal vocalist and less blues influence. That’s because…well, doom metal pretty much is what Black Sabbath were doing in their early days and a lot of doom metal’s development has been refining what Sabbath did and adding new elements to it. Because of this, you’d be forgiven for listening to Dalit and going “This just sounds like Black Sabbath worship” when, on a deeper listen, such a description doesn’t hold up quite as well as you might expect. The limited influence of the blues on the band’s sound is the real giveaway: a lot of the subtleties that can be traced back to the blues in Sabbath’s music aren’t present here, which results in a sound which is a bit more refined and focused than Sabbath did, but doesn’t have the idiosyncrasies which keep Sabbath sounding fresh now. Obviously, whether you like this will depend on whether you like the general vibe of Sabbath’s sound or not, but I personally find the lack of the little details simply results in the record’s sound failing to grab me properly.

That said, I can’t fault the songwriting on this record, as it’s pretty good overall! All six songs definitely manage to do what I’d expect from doom, which is to be heavy, slow paced and ominous, but they have some moments which are fairly memorable and all of the songs have moments where the heaviness is dialed down to the point where the record gets a chance to create some atmosphere before pummelling you again with the typical heavy riffing of doom metal, which makes it a surprisingly dynamic record overall. I don’t think it utilises the dynamics enough to keep the record interesting to doom newcomers, but it’s worth noting anyway, as I was not entirely expecting to see that in the record!

While most people would probably be inclined to write the band off as skilled musicians due to a lack of speed to their playing, the key point to remember is that doom prioritises creating an depressing atmosphere (although it IS called doom metal, so it’s kind of in the title, when you think about it hard enough), so the focus is not necessarily on technically complex instrumentation so much as precise musicianship that enhances the atmosphere. In that aspect, Dalit’s musicians do a really solid job, with all of the performances enhancing the atmosphere of the album wonderfully! I do feel that Hellem falls into the trap of mostly following the guitars in the band’s music, which is a bit frustrating for me because doom metal seems like the sort of thing where having a bassist who is able to do his own thing would be a bonus rather than a hindrance, but that’s really my only real complaint on the performance front.

Hellem’s vocals arguably overlap with black metal vocals in some aspects, as the style being utilised is much higher than a stereotypical death metal growl, but they’re not quite to the shrieked extent that you’d typically hear from the likes of Trevor Strand (frontman of The Black Dahlia Murder) or Jonny Davy (frontman of Job for a Cowboy). Honestly, I quite like his vocals: they fit the vibe that the band are going for very well and, while newcomers to extreme metal are not going to understand what he’s singing at all, it’s not too difficult to understand him if you are used to it.

The production of the record is mostly fine, but I do have a minor complaint. Probably to nobody’s surprise by this point, it’s the mastering, which isn’t bad (indeed, it’s actually pretty respectable overall!), but still a tiny bit louder than I personally would have liked. However, I don’t have too many issues with the record being mastered to this level, so it’s not a major issue. Beyond that, I have to say everything sounds pretty good and the bass heavy mix fits what the band are doing excellently! I have to give everyone involved in the production of this record a lot of praise for their work, because, really, they’ve done excellently overall!

Overall, speaking as a newcomer to doom, I’m a bit on the fence about Descent and I’m not sure it’s really got me that eager about doom metal as a genre, but, speaking as impersonally as I can, there’s nothing really bad about this album and what it does as a whole is certainly decent. While the band’s Christian lean could be problematic for people who oppose Christian metal (although I didn’t find anything overtly Christian in the lyrics, so you’d have to try REALLY hard to take offence over that!) and I wouldn’t particularly recommend this album if you’re wanting to start with doom metal, there’s nothing that I can’t see being appreciated by already established doom fans on here. So, if you like doom metal and aren’t opposed to the idea of extreme metal vocals or Christian lyrics in the genre, then…well, I doubt it’ll be your album of the year, but you should find Descent a fun listen all the same!

Descent will be released on the 25th of March by Endtime Productions. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.

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