Downfall of Gaia
11th November 2016 – Metal Blade Records
04. Ephemerol II
In the last half-decade, post-black metal has risen as one of the dominant creative forces in extreme metal. With its close cousins in blackgaze, the Oathbreakers, the Conjurers and the Deafheavens dominate a particularly throaty, abrasive niche. Downfall of Gaia are a firm go-to band for thinkpieces and Bandcamp genre tags, and rightly so.
Atrophy is spectacularly bleak and caustic, like a tatty Darkthrone shirt soaking in bleach. There’s a definite cherry-picking of elements from extreme subgenres, a philosophy which can leave releases feeling a little unfocussed; here, Downfall of Gaia’s focus on black metal’s atmosphere gives Atrophy’s tracks space to peak and trough, dipping into ambience and back into punishing ferocity. Nailing the bleak feel, they’ve also made a point of writing coherent, identifiable riffs; sections in cuts like “Ephemerol” cut through what can be a dense and unforgiving record, and though there’s plenty of moving material in delicate moments such as “Woe“, moments of clarity tie the piece together neatly.
There’s a lot that’s thoughtful, even measured, but the bits that aren’t are ferocious, caustic and vital. Their soft-bits philosophy is in contrast to, say, Deafheaven, whose twinkly bits have their own life; Gaia’s take is to build tension in these calmer moments and unleash it with monstrous force. “Ephemerol II“, a brief interlude, leads into the blistering “Atrophy” but there are numerous other moments of calm that are shattered; it’s something Downfall of Gaia do especially well.
In terms of raw power, DoG build significantly on their previous material. 2012′s Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes leant towards evocative tremolo-picked sections. These are shed in favour of a throatier, toothier ferocity. The record is a bit more meat-and-potatoes than comparable contemporary releases, notably Oathbreaker’s recent Rheia; whilst Oathbreaker are delicate and unsettling, Gaia’s less busy approach means the sledgehammer moments hit that much harder. Atrophy reminds me a lot of Mgła’s Exercises in Futility, an example of a band writing a stunning record in a pre-existing framework. Here they’ve taken a different approach to a style they’ve helped to pioneer and by walking back their softer moments have produced their darkest moment to date.
For bands like this who are firmly towards the artsier side there’s a real satisfaction to seeing them really nail a satisfying, visceral release. In an environment that’s really spawned some gems, Downfall of Gaia are always a style example and Atrophy only solidifies that. After all, for so many this year has been fearsome bullshit and as it finally ends we all need some catharsis; this is their cheery Christmas gift to us all.