Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dephosphorus - Night Sky Transform (2012)

Full Length, 7 Degrees Records
August 20th, 2012

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal/Hardcore/Black Metal/Astrogrind
Region: Greece

Dephosphorus have returned with their first full record. I've been listening to Night Sky Transform for a little while now, but even when I had only heard the first two tracks at the beginning of this year I knew it was going to be something ferocious and formidable.

Now that I physically have it and have spun it an ungodly number of times even before it was in my grasp I can confidently say that this is my #2 record of the year at this point, and until I hear the new Tesa it'll have to be something of considerable heft to move it from that spot. If you're wondering what #1 is then you haven't been paying attention.

I do admit that the first few times I listened through Night Sky Transform it did not hit me as hard as Axiom. I didn't think it was bad, it's just that I was a little concerned that they couldn't follow themselves. But I had faith and returned to it repeatedly, and at some point it hit me just as hard as their first release. That alone is impressive enough. Being able to top such a devastating opener to their library is something I was concerned would not happen even though I trust in their creativity, skill and dedication.

Night Sky Transform is 10 tracks (exactly 31 minutes) of swirling blackened grindcore that is easily the best in it's still ambiguous genre this year and a worthy follow up to their EP. What's notable about the length here is it never ceases to impress and never wears on you; most grind and hardcore records that reach or pass the half hour mark can become tedious and repetitious but this is far from what you experience here. Of course this is much more than pure grind or hardcore to say the least — Dephosphorus perpetually elude categorization.

Almost every track hovers around 3 minutes in length but they're so packed full of exciting, gripping elements that you're often surprised at how quickly they seem to progress. You'll feel compelled to return to them in order to catch something you missed before. And yet it's nothing overly complex at all. It's not flashy or self-indulgent. That's not to say the skill level isn't impressive — surely it is on all fronts. And it's all extremely tight and hasn't dropped one bit from their debut. The important thing here is a completely smooth transition between all the various styles they've mixed, channeled through rich and very pleasing riffs Thanos conjures, wonderfully harsh vocal work from Panos, and Nikos' percussion that is searingly fast and tastefully busy.

At first the production seems coarse compared to Axiom which felt very cold and clean, but by the second track you settle into it comfortably as it brings the rough, muddied texture of the guitar and the force of the drums into a new level of dynamism. It does not smother anything — Panos' voice is not drowned, Nikos' blasts do not burry Thanos' mighty guitar work. Lyrically we see that the cosmological-spiritual themes glimpsed in Axiom are preserved and expanded upon, sometimes ceremonial in form, with (what I think are) subtle dystopian undertones taken to a celestial level in some songs.

Dephosphorus pour untold quantities of passion and intensity into this record. Fierce cosmic radiation seeps into each song as they retain their signature style, a unique atmosphere draping all songs, while on a few occasions they slow down and experiment ever so slightly with the strong formula they've established.

Examples of this can be heard in "The Fermi Paradox" which at the start could almost be confused with something Neurosis might have created: slow martial or ceremonial drumming, eerie twinkling atmospherics and minimalistic, bendy swelling grooves; as well as a switch for the first time to clean droned vocals to heighten the ritualistic feeling of astral projection through the dominating blackened chaos. Panos' vocals are fairly varied on this record and just as terrifying. Desperate and agonized on the higher register and when he dips low they are an unearthly growl

"Unconscious Excursion" is another instance where things are slowed down for a time with thick sustained chords and once again clean moans. It's a very hypnotic sway that is created, which is carried into a slightly faster paced second half where we return to some of that wonderful and tasty hardcore groove found throughout the record (accompanied by a short and howling solo). You can see this kind of formula work it's way into the middle of the following track "Aurora" as well, continuing to the end. It gives variance between the rusted cacophony that tears through the coldest reaches of space, without dropping the power.

What I love about everything they've released so far is that they manage to capture the heaving weight of sludge at various points but never actually settle on it, so you don't actually encounter or experience it in it's pure form but taste the influence in a new, dark manifestation. This is kind of captured in it's more distilled forms in the aforementioned tracks, but in almost every song you catch glimpses of it, alongside the death metal and black metal which stains the grinding hardcore.

I have to say that while I could easily say everything recorded hear impresses me (as it all does) which makes it hard to choose favorite tracks, I will say the first four songs are my favorites. "Uncharted" and "Cold Omen were wise choices to show off before Night Sky Transform was released, as well as being great openers to have back-to-back. Both have a very similar vibe and formula, sounding like a brief transition from where Axiom left off to the full earth shattering impact of this record.

Each riff in these openers is so addicting and well crafted, smoothly slipping into one another and leading to a dissonant and heavy dirge at the end; injecting the black metal with some sludge ooze to great effect. These ending caps have some lovely drumming to compliment the just as impressive guitar and vocal work. "Cold Omen" especially has some hurricane-force percussion. Both are captivating seemingly aided by the unceasing pressure of surrounding celestial bodies

"Starless" follows them with a more bouncy and mid-paced section on guitar while the drumming continues to awe, and when you hit that section at the 50 second mark it becomes truly spellbinding; shortly afterwards assaulting you with that blinding haste they channel so well. And then we hit the title track, decidedly more on the genuine hardcore side than blackened grind (on the outset at least) with flurries of discord added to the powerchords. You can still feel the astral atmosphere lurking within each moment however. By the time you're halfway in a slow gratifying oscillation lulls you, signalling they haven't dropped their approach at all, before a return to the previous thread.

From this point on we see Dephosphorus shape their formula continuously into deeply satisfying and intense new configurations without straying too far from their transcendental, darkened, angular atmospherics. It's remarkable how they can transfigure their style and keep it fresh without losing the force behind it.

We see it in tracks like "The Astral Putch I" which starts off jarring before jumping effortlessly between grindcore with a definite black metal structure shortly after the intro, and then again near the end where a riff appears that reeks of evil; tremolo angularity feeds into chords of the same style. "The Astral Putch II" is split from the first by "Identifying The Encapsulator" — which is jumpy vortex of riffs — and is far different from part one. Slower at first, breathing deep and shining with a brooding cold patina, before jumping into more technical territory. It then shifts into a sharp blackened cascade shortly after, urgent and ominous; suddenly we're back in the hardcore gear as Panos shrieks his last words.

And then as if to prove my earlier point we sink into "Stargazing & Violence". A distinct death metal overtone is cloaking the opening minute, close to the old school on both the drums and guitars. Just as you're settling into it we're greeted with a delicious groove and before you're finished enjoying it an escalating scheme of chords appears as Panos calmly and clearly speaks with it. The black metal enters and Nikos blasts us while Panos screeches — and one final return to a more hardcore flavor. *

The final three tracks that close this record also appeared on their split with Wake released a few months back, and if you read my review of that record then you already know what my impression of them was at that point. The shortest tracks on the record and still being fairly different from each other in spite of your expectations of them being a burst of speed to close the record. "Unit" is certainly a scorching meteor, but both "The Final Computronium" and "The Cosmologist" have some nice slower sections crush you with. Sure they're executed with a disturbing urgency but amongst the oppressive speed is breathing room, making the blistering pace all the more satisfying. *

Why would you even hesitate to listen to this? This is an album of undeniable strength and creativity, something that blends genres so effortlessly and smoothly it can please practically anyone with working ears who can appreciate great underground music. A pleasure to listen to, Night Sky Transform is a huge accomplishment for these Greek grinders and that's saying a lot when you consider their debut Axiom was one of the best pieces of grind-esque metal in the last decade this side of GridLink and A Scanner Darkly.

Listen to it loud and conjure an astral storm.

No download link this time even though it's out there. Dephosphorus deserve your money, so go to bandcamp and download it for a measly $5 as it's easily worth more than that. Stream it and hear for yourself I do not lie. Or you can go to 7 Degrees Records and send them an email to pick this up in vinyl form with some beautiful artwork. I just got my copy and it's well worth the cash.

DOWNLOAD / BUY (Bandcamp)

EDIT: A mistake on my part everyone. Apparently the advanced copy I had included the tracks from the Wake split and the Great Falls split, and now that I've spun the vinyl and been contacted/informed I'm aware of this. So I've struck the last two paragraphs of the review dealing with those aspects and amended the length. Just be aware of this when reading this and checking out the album, those four tracks are found on separate releases. *