(5CM Recordings, 2015)
Oh, the existence of the black metal lifer. I wonder what goes through one’s head on a daily basis when all there is to do is channel one’s angst and hatred into a churning maelstrom of seething darkness? Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a huge black metal fan, and Dhampyr is the Killingly, Connecticut, one-man black metal project of Harley Lethalm. I’m just trying to get inside his head is all. I love black metal, but I certainly don’t embody the part.
When I think of black metal, though, I’m drawn by that “metal” word, expecting fast, technical feats of musical barbarism. Dhampyr’s new tape for 5CM Recordings, a decidedly un–black metal label, doesn’t exactly do what I expect it to – and that’s precisely what its strength is. See, Lethalm and anybody else who can play fast and bark loud can play traditional black metal. But can the average scenester pull back and allow the dark expanse of a modern wasteland to breathe itself into existence without bludgeoning it to within an inch of itself? That’s where Cotton Epistles: Prologues to a Nonoscillatory Cosmotheosophic Oxycaryum Purge Physics; or, Three Shrinking Butterfly Preludes in C# (hereafter, simply Cotton Epistles, because c’mon) stands out: it proves that black metal and electronic soundscapes aren’t necessarily that dissimilar from each other.
So it turns out that Harley Lethalm isn’t the average black metaller, and God bless him (or Satan, or whoever). He’s got this, ahem, electronic soundscapes thing down, filling his compositions with slow-building post-apocalyptic tension, mixing ambient synth work with darkwave passages for the ultimate in experimental gothiness. Take “notre jeunesse blanc blanc: allegro II – le mystère des saints innocents,” for instance – a seven-minute shuddering mood piece that borders on IDM at points, but I think it’s something that can transcend the boundaries of audience. There’s also a creepy sample of Judy Garland (I think) weeping her way through “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the end of the tune, and it’s a perfect way to end the song.
Then there’s the tracks that are just full of dread, like “une théologie demi-heure détude rose et bénédictions dépinards délirantes,” indebted to Raime and their ilk for an almost industrial barrage, but denser and more subterranean. See also “my abishag, my abigail, my suntag, my rumi-hun halifax” for a lesson in how to incorporate trip hop into this whole thing. And perhaps the most interesting mid-album run, featuring “pills like white elephants,” “pour katherine, que les dauphins se félitent a vous tous eaux oubliées et tout lamour que nous avons volé lar,” and “these loch ness blues,” borders on folk, with the acoustic guitar Lethalm’s main focus here. All are coated in effect and haze, and all seemingly come from another plane of existence, where American folk huddled inside a hard drive and became infested with viruses before being discovered by Dominick Fernow.
Of course “telecapathia” and “valse dun morloc tordu” have a Nine Inch Nails vibe, and both sound perfectly in place nestled among the rest of Cotton Epistles, especially surrounded by noise/drone pieces at the album’s close. And with that, Harley Latham achieves something with his Dhampyr project that he may not have with simply another black metal release: a stunning variety of moods, textures, and sounds that cohere better than they have a right to. So know this – I still love black metal, and I still love hearing its adventurous offshoots. Check this one out – it’s a remarkable example of the latter.
RIYL: Raime, Demdike Stare, Vatican Shadow