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Dødheimsgard - A Umbra Omega CD (album) cover

A UMBRA OMEGA

Dødheimsgard

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.93 | 31 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'A Umbra Omega' - Dodheimsgard (86/100)

I think it's difficult nowadays to appreciate just how far Dodheimsgard took black metal at the end of the 1990s. 666 International's bold push to twist the sound with industrial interference and jazz-based intuition did for black metal what Atheist's Unquestionable Presence did for its death metal counterpart several years prior. Of course, by the time we're at now, black metal is practically old enough as a genre to have settled down, possibly had kids, and otherwise aged enough to have seen each one of its potential permutations realized into some shape or form. When it's become relatively 'normal' to hear bands constantly pushing the boundaries, it's woefully easy to forget there was once a time things of an experimental nature were major risks to take in a scene that took pride in its own obscurity.

All things considered, Dodheimsgard's been pretty quiet in the years since they changed the game. Supervillain Outcast dropped eight years later in 2007, and it's now been seven years since that. The sheer rarity of their output makes A Umbra Omega feel that much more like a cherished event; there would be few other circumstances I'd be openly embrace a 70 minute metal album without reservations. The major waiting period makes it so that it would seem inappropriate to call this latest DHG opus a real follow-up to their past material; nonetheless, there were things I'd expect from any new work of theirs. No Dodheimsgard record could be complete without taunting the listener's sanity to some forsaken degree, and a consistent standard of musicianship far beyond the par of their contemporaries would be virtually a granted fact. To call A Umbra Omega DHG's finest album may be tempting exaggeration, but the fact that I want to go out and say that should be testament to the album's jaw-dropping creativity. I'll say this much for it: where on past albums not all of Dodheimsgard's experiments succeeded unanimously, A Umbra Omega is consistently dazzling the entire way through.

Though still unmistakably black metal, never has the line between that and the avant-garde felt so blurred with Dodheimsgard. Following the project's time silent, a renewed grasp of style abounds, and it may be easiest to loosely define what DHG are doing here as progressive extreme metal. Even the vocals-- provided here by Aldrahn from the band's heyday-- are conceivably alien to blackened norms. The screeching guitar parts are as atonal as ever, the drums laced with off-kilter jazz repertoire, and atop all of this Aldrahn delivers one of the most compelling and strange vocal performances I have heard on a metal record. His snarling, dissonant sprechgesang often resembles the maddening cadence of a carnival announcer. The instrumentation never lets up its pace to make way for the vocals, and I don't think a more traditional vocal performance would have held up against DHG's technical chops, for here they are punishing, mind-bending and unrelenting in their calculated depravity.

It's par for the course for an avant-garde metal band to throw every possible style and idea into the pot for an eclectic mess as part of their musical statement. Dodheimsgard aren't beyond these playfully unexpected detours, but what most distinguishes this from their past albums is the fact that they've managed to congeal it into something that sounds tight and coherent. You'll hear a lot of memorable one-shot passages throughout the album's hour-plus, but it never sounds like DHG are straying from the course. As to how the band have managed to get this impression across, I'm not completely sure. If I had to guess, I'd say they grasped a handful of the most insane and off-hand traits in their arsenal (the swirling riffs, jazzy drums and theatrical vocals among them) and had confidence enough in their core sound to carry it throughout the album's length.

That A Umbra Omega has such a strong center makes the said detours all the more engaging when they do happen. While the glitchy industrial intro "The Love Divine" is an obvious write-off in this regard, every following piece (averaging around the 12 minute mark) offers at least a few of these each, and they're almost all individually memorable. Of these, "Aphelion Void" offers up some of the best at the album's start, particularly a slow-building, electronics-based passage about 8 minutes into the piece. Arguably my favourite moment in the entirety of A Umbra Omega encompasses the last two minutes of "God Protocol Axiom", where a tense and otherwise atonal composition erupts into a beautifully heart-wrenching, actually melodic climax. Shortly after, of course, DHG are back to their standard tricks, and despite the album's length, their go-to techniques of controlled chaos and quasi-operatic pomp never lose their stopping power.

For an avant-garde album that hinges primarily on a single sound and madness-inducing tone, A Umbra Omega really does feel consistently engaging and fascinating. The album's length and its predilection for daunting track lengths doesn't make it such an easy listen even for the long-since initiated, but once I start listening to the album, it's tough to put down. I'm sure A Umbra Omega could have said just as much in less time, but considering we haven't heard anything from this legendary band in so long, I could never complain about DHG eating up more of a compact disc's space than most ever attempt. As always, A Umbra Omega isn't for the faint of heart, but then again, Dodheimsgard have only ever catered to an adventurous sort of listener. Even if it could never bear the historical gamechanging significance of 666 International, I'm not afraid to say this band has set a new standard for themselves with this one.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |

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