I’d like to start by saying FUCK this CD’s layout. Yes, I know that Autumn Winds prides itself on being one of the most unbearably artsy labels in the universe, but there’s a thin line between tasteful (if utterly lacking in subtlety) artistry and just being annoying. I’m somewhat willing to excuse the double/reverse booklet (you know, flip it over to see the other band’s side and read the lyrics), simply because of how prevalent the style is. It’s still less preferable than just having a normal booklet, but I can get past it. What I can’t get past is removing all the vowels from the lyric sheet. Come fucking on! The flipped booklet is one thing: yeah, I know you want to reflect on duality and equality and the yin and yang of experimental doom metal or whatever the fuck you like, but there’s no excuse for the lyrical retardation taking place in the booklet.
But whatever, let’s get past the asinine packaging. ‘Warring Against The Sun/Solipsis’ (good luck on finding a concrete answer on which title comes first) is a split release between British black/doom relative newcomers Drear and slightly older minimalist American doom metal one-man project Great American Desert. As the first ‘major’ release (depending upon interpretation) for each band, we get to see these doomers in their not-quite raw stages, with decent budgets but small egos, looking forward to a future full of plodding and misery. You can’t claim that you don’t get your money’s worth on this split: there’s just a hair under seventy-five minutes worth of music here spread along eight tracks, more than doubling your average brutal death album these days, and for the prices I’ve seen it around for, there’s no reason not to give it a try for the volume of material here alone. But I suppose some people actually care about the music.
‘Warring Against The Sun’ is composed of three lengthy tracks. I’m tempted to compare Drear to countrymen Moss (minus the crust obsession, though) and I suppose it would be marginally accurate in the murkiness and decrepit atmosphere of it all, but in practice, the delivery is rather different. The atmosphere of it almost makes me think of a more lethargic, slothy corruption of what Celtic Frost aimed for on ‘Monotheist’. A sort of debilitated majesty, bombastic yet decrepit, kingly yet filthy all at once. Big, clinging, fuzzy chords form an auditory miasma of dusty venom while programmed drums form a sparse semirhythm of bass drums and crash cymbals. Repetition is, as expected, quite high. The central driving force of the music here are the tortured Vikernes-style BM vocals, the timbre of which functions as the central facet of the compositions. The music is good, but much of the intensity and occult atmosphere is derived from the vocal performance.
While writing this review, I actually realized what frame of mind you have to be in for Drear’s side while talking to others between sentences. Drear’s music represents a sort of pissed-off alienation combined with an obligated sort of resolve for the struggles ahead. Abstract? Most certainly. An analogy: Drear is the sort of music that you listen to when you’ve not only been turned down for your promotion, but learn through the grapevine that you’ll have to be fighting just to keep the shitty position you’ve had for years. You know that feeling of being put-upon by those that depend on you, that coffee-stained alienation that comes with graveyard shifts in video rental stores and those stresses that bear down a little harder every day? Yeah, that’s Drear. The aesthetic might be a bit more blue-collar and workhorse (I think they were aiming for something a bit more erudite than such), but it works well, despite reminding you more of Crowbar than Monarch.
But musically, do they pull it off? To some degree. Drear’s clearly a very professional outfit. But I get the feeling that perhaps Drear ‘knows’ their style more than they really ‘feel’ it: the band doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with itself, despite the dogmatic instruments and vocals at work here. Does this make the first side of the release irrelevant? Hell no. Drear, as the more ‘accessible’ of the two artists is probably the more consistent bet for success among the average listener. While the band doesn’t feel quite perfectly established yet, I think they’re on the road to stabilizing a bit more and really impressing us with you serious black/doom in the years to come. As it is, though, they’re doing quite well.
Great American Desert:
‘Solipsis’, on the other hand, is five tracks of extremely aberrant doom metal. Great American Desert plays a very peculiar, ritualistic breed of (apparently) Luciferian doom metal, with a high emphasis on minimalism and stark repetition. Far from the lush sounds of Drear, the notes emitted in Great American Desert’s music seem to dry up like raindrops in Arizona, popping into existence only briefly before disintegrating into the nothingness of the soundscape. ‘Sparse’ is most certainly the name of the game; like a kinder, gentler Khanate, with hoarse screams of anguish replaced by small, purring hisses, and monolithic power chords eschewed in favor of ambling, unpredictable clean guitar. It’s not a very ‘heavy’ music, per se, and yet it is undeniably ‘doom’, and not merely in tempo. Indeed, the doom here is cultivated through that stretching, yawning, trudging feel of Don Juan wandering through the desert on twenty hits of Peyote and gila monster urine. You can practically feel the dry, baking heat coming off this music.
The drums here are brilliant. They’re barely even identifiable as drums. Each sample (I believe they’re programmed) is deliberately clipped to its barest properties, resulting in sounds that are less pieces of a drum kit and more recognizable pops, hisses and squeaks, flickering into existence for just the barest trace of time necessary to form a skeletal breed of rhythm. The rest of the music is composed of (generally) clean guitar lines, thunking, rooted bass, and hissing, gasping, death-croaking vocal lines. Like Drear, the vocals make up a great deal of Great American Desert’s music: generally the vocals are more growling and collected at the beginning of a track, but slowly unravel into a decayed whisper with a definite tone of finality and loss to it. The songs are uniformly hypnotic and atmospheric, though the desert atmosphere espoused here is one greatly atypical for doom metal.
Great American Desert is most certainly the more experimental and bizarre artist here, more likely to polarize listeners than Drear. I can see a lot of fans of Drear being turned off by just how stark and empty the music here is; but on the same note, I can definitely think of a number of people who would be deeply interested in just this level of minimalism and hallucinatory fervor. Personally, I prefer the second side of this split to the first. While Drear’s music is good, Great American Desert simply, as a matter of personal taste, strikes me closer to home with its handful of elements in contrast to the greater scope of Drear’s work. Having been around a couple years longer than the former artist, Great American Desert has has five years total to solidify its sound, and it does so admirably: unlike Drear, there’s not even the slightest hint that Jeremy Christner is unsure with what he’s doing: you either like it or you don’t, plain and simple.
The immortal question: to buy or not to buy. Simply by the volume of material present here, I’d say that any of the doomed should give this CD a listen. With this much music, there’s bound to be something for everyone, no matter how small. Those intrigued by the epic would be wise to examine Drear, while the more ambient and experimental among us can definitely stay for Great American Desert. Either way, each side will examine the other in a very different light, which I suppose means mission accomplished to some degree. ‘Warring Against The Sun/Solipsis’ is floating around in pretty much every underground distro out there these days, so finding one for a good price shouldn’t be a difficult proposition. Give it a try: what we have here are the first steps to two acts who might be just a hop, skip and jump away from brilliance.
Written by Noktorn