Dead Woman’s Ditch
27th August 2017 – Third I Rex
01. The Ugly Truths
02. Failed To Rot
03. We Are Forgiven
04. Break The Mind
05. Mr. Kipper
Modern black metal experimentation is largely split between the post-metal scene and a slightly less-defined group of miscreants in the more explorative tradition. Relative newcomers Dead Woman’s Ditch are firmly in the latter camp, and have embraced their eclectic nature to present a characterful take on the traditional black metal format. On Seo-Mere-Saetan, they’ve focussed the explorations on previous shorter releases to a punishing, unpredictable offering.
Dead Woman’s Ditch span a lot of extreme metal subgenres; there are overtones of sludge and doom, but for me this strikes as a black metal record in spirit. It’s the black metal elements that give the record it’s unifying sound; the band’s sound has a heavy undercurrent of latter-day Immortal but with looser, fuzzier production and a tendency towards slower pacing. In addition the spirit of wild experimentation and the inclusion of narratives reminded me of some of the more out-there prog. There are shadows of bands like Cardiacs here in the more weird-out sections, but these are fairly muted.
This is a mercurial, experimental record. Generally pretty feral, it features some gritty left-field moments that help to solidify their bizarre take on the genre. For anyone bored of extreme metal’s focus on mass and volume at the expense of character, your prayers have been answered; Seo-Mere-Saetan hisses and spits but firmly in Dead Woman’s Ditch’s own style, without obnoxiously trying to draw attention to its individual sound.
Opener “The Ugly Truths” is a broody affair which opens into some almost spoken-word sections. This gives way into the main bulk of the record; some faster, Immortal-esque blasts on “Failed to Rot” yield to some acoustic-sounding stringed instrumentation and panic-stricken samples. Mid-album the record adopts a chanting vocal style which offsets the harsher black metal elements; “We are Forgiven” is an album highlight and probably the clearest example of their style, and the ferocious “Break the Mind” is thickly textured with multi-layered tremolo-picked guitars. The riffier “Mr. Kipper” is a more eccentric offering, almost breaking into Tim Smith territory vocally, albeit with a black metal aesthetic. The record concludes with “Crusade“, with the thunderous doom giving way to esoteric vocal samples that bluster until they’re swallowed by a deeply unsettling clamour of screaming voices.
There’s a lot to be impressed with here. This is a risk-heavy album, awash with instrumental flourishes but not so busy as to turn listeners off. The vocals are excellent, ranging from a really spot-on black metal snarl to bizarre chants and macabre cleaner sections. It’s also really fucking sinister, the unsettling qualities accentuated by how effortless this record comes across; a particular strength is how unaffected it sounds, all the gravitas of black metal without the theatrics or clichés.
For hardened black metal fans searching for hidden gold, this is quite something. It’s almost a shame that such an idea-heavy release lends itself so naturally to a fuzzed-up, low-fi production style; a clearer mix may outline their quirks and nuances better, but the production is completely appropriate for the subject material. Dead Woman’s Ditch have a heavy doom influence, but the riffs are generally a little understated; a clearer focus on riffs might give future releases more for listeners to immediately connect with. Mostly though, improvements would involve refining and clarifying already solid ideas.
I’ve been watching Dead Woman’s Ditch since the first singles dropped some years ago; it’s gratifying to see them emerge as a mature, fully-realised experimental outfit. There’s plenty of room for them to develop further and plenty of directions for them to expand into, but with Seo-Mere-Saetan, Dead Woman’s Ditch have joined the echelon of the UK’s leading metal experimentalists.