01: Still Alive
02: A Common Tragedy
03: The Obsidian Fate
06: Lost Shores
07: Drowned in Cyan
09: The Refusal Effect
You don’t have to wait very long for Damned Spring Fragrantia‘s debut album Divergences to give you a hefty kick in the chest. About 43 seconds, in fact.
There is something of a trend at the moment for the first track on an album to be a short introduction. Standard protocol appears to dictate that this introduction should be under two minutes long, and be comprised of ‘ambient’ noise, generated either electronically, or from swells of guitar feedback.
Instead, DSF have chosen to buck this trend a little, and opening track “Still Alive” delivers a quick showcase of the brutality to come, in about 100 seconds. This is pleasing. At the risk of rendering this review entirely redundant, listening to this track should give you enough ammunition to decide whether it is worth your while to carry on with the rest of the album.
But, assuming you’re still here, DSF have been coaxed out their native Italy to join the Basick Records family and they sit with other recent signings Dissipate and Glass Cloud at the more pummelling end of that particular sonic spectrum.
It’s hard to say how much their sound is informed by their nationality, as the other Italian bands that spring immediately to my mind – Linea 77, Amia Venera Landscape and Ephel Duath – sound nothing like each other, or DSF for that matter.
As you may have gleaned already, Divergences is a punishing affair. The band take the lurching tech-djent of vildhjarta and a certain other over-referenced Swedish band, and lash it to big, bruising grooves reminicent of early Throwdown, and also a spot of Born of Osiris, albeit without the twinkly keyboards.
It’s obvious that guitarists Andrea Tinelli and Enrico Picari are using extended range guitars, but fortunately they are not totally infatuated with that new eighth string. Whilst there certainly is some open-string palm-muted low-down chuggery in evidence, it doesn’t over-stay its welcome.
Crucially, the riffs pass the ‘nod test’ over which many tech-djent band stumble. However many improbably placed notes and stop-start rhythms are deployed, the band do not sacrifice the overall groove to crowbar them in. The results are lip-curling, fist-pumping, head-banging, or whatever your default response happens to be when presented with a particular meaty riff – and there are plenty to choose from here.
But despite the name, Divergences isn’t really all that diverse. The band have devised for themselves an undoubtedly formidable base template, but they rarely stray far from it.
This is particularly apparent in Nicolo Carrara‘s vocals. It would be fair to say that he commands a fearsome bellow, but it is slightly unfortunate that it appears, for the time being, to be the only weapon in his arsenal. So the only real variety in the vocal department comes in “Pariah“, with a guest appearance from Charlie Holmes of Heart In Hand.
Similarly, whilst the rhythm section of Luca Marchi and Nicolo Ballabeni don’t do anything obviously wrong, they don’t do much that is conspicuously awesome either.
For bass players generally, the increasing popularity of the super-downtuned guitar is causing problems, as their eight-string wielding buddies are encroaching ever further into the registers that were once their own. So while Luca may be struggling to distinguish himself in the mix, he’s certainly not the only bass player in this predicament at the moment.
So the net result is a relentless parade of satisfyingly brutal riffs that hang together well, with only “Lost Shores” not really working as well as it could.
Divergences is enjoyable on an almost primal level. It may not completely set the world on fire, but there’s definitely some fun to be had with these tunes. The band will soon be playing their first British show at the UK Tech Metal Fest, and they’re sure to find some sympathetic ears in that crowd.
Perhaps more importantly, Divergences serves as a solid foundation on which the band can develop. The band definitely have an ear for a brutal riff that packs a mean groove. If they can build on this, broaden their horizons and take a few more risks, future DSF releases could well be very special indeed.