Discog Diving: Dirge (part 2)
Welcome back. In case you’re wondering what/who/why this is, check out Part 1 of my journey through Dirge’s discography.
As promised, today we’ll be looking at how Dirge completed their metamorphosis in the course of their final three records (and what additional material from this period is found on Vanishing Point). And as teased, you might find something to like here even if previous efforts didn’t quite do it for you. Let’s get into it.
Elysian Magnetic Fields (2011)
With EMF, Dirge locks the last pieces of their sound into place. From here on out, the only guests featured on the albums are vocalists; instrumentally, the post-metal and the electronic elements shoulder everything by themselves, and become increasingly intertwined. The synths and soundscapes were certainly an integral part of the previous record, but they now begin to feel like a full-fledged instrument in their own right, not merely enhancing but actually shaping the sound.
Here, at the onset of this melding of the two sides, the synths and samples still retain some of their harshness, giving the often despondent music a kind of gritty quality, like on the opener or the instrumental “Sandstorm”. In other places, like “Cocoon,” the title track, or “Obsidian,” they can create a peculiar alien atmosphere that not only elevates these songs, but almost steals the show.
Another element the band will retain from here on out are the vocals. The singer has settled on a booming, gruff shout that I wasn’t the biggest fan of initially, but which fits the music’s feeling of vastness. Furthermore, clean vocals are now used more frequently and more confidently, often for a pleasantly melancholic effect. This adds a nice bit of versatility, which is further aided by whittling down the gargantuan songs to lengths that can be handled a little more easily. This process will be taken further on the next two records, but here, it’s at a point where it only rarely affects the structures of songs; you mostly still get the feeling of watching the slow growth of something huge, just in a little less time.
That balance in the songwriting, as well as the balance between integrating electronic elements more while retaining their distinct identity, make this album very engaging, to the point where it feels surprisingly succinct despite its running time of roughly 66 minutes. It’s probably my favourite of the bunch and one I’d recommend to newcomers.
The vinyl version of the album included the instrumental “Sine Time Oscillations,” which later got reworked into “Baltica (Sine Time Reoscillated)” for the Alma Baltica EP.
With all the elements in place, the final two records are mostly concerned with fine tuning them, and something is tuned slightly wrong on Hyperion. Songs become a little more compact yet again, and although the first two almost get it right, it seems like the band doesn’t quite yet know how best to handle this new-found immediacy; it sometimes feels like the music arrives at its destination too soon and is left treading water. Synths are used a bit more subtly and lose their noisy character, with variation coming instead from the use of clean vocals, but again, they’re not quite there yet.
Performances lack a bit of energy across the board (not just in the vocal department), and the album is best when it either reminds me of the previous one or foreshadows the next one. It’s not outright bad, but it’s my least favourite out of this final trifecta.
This time, the vinyl version included two exclusive songs, “Absence” and “Distance,” and the beautiful instrumental “À Rebours” ended up on the cutting room floor. I actually like that one better than the album’s closing track.
Lost Empyrean (2018)
After the brief detour that is 2017’s instrumental ambient EP Alma Baltica, we get to the band’s last full-length record, and everything is dialed to the right setting. It’s the full realization of the idea that fell flat for me on Hyperion: more immediate, compact songs that achieve their effectiveness by utilizing every facet of the band’s sound to its fullest potential. Beautiful, soaring, wistful melodies are shared in equal parts between guitars, synths, and clean vocals. I feel like there’s a strong sense of unison here, like everyone is supporting each other in the pursuit of a clear, common goal. The album knows exactly when to use what and how to get the maximum effect, all without letting a single song pass the 10-minute mark.
My only minor gripe is that “A Sea of Light,” nice as the guest vocals on it are, overstays its welcome by a little bit. Other than that, the record is pretty consistently awesome and stunningly beautiful despite (or because of?) its bleakness. I might still like EMF better, but it’s a tough choice. Things could hardly have ended on a higher note for the band.
The album outtake “Carrion Shrine” is another beautiful track that would hardly have burdened the album. Furthermore, Raphaël Bovey, the man who mixed and mastered this record, also worked his magic on Vanishing Point, updating the sound to make for a consistently great listening experience.
That was one hell of an enjoyable journey. It was a lot of fun to see them develop their sound, particularly throughout the three middle albums. I can certainly say I’ve become a fan. If you’re already one, I hope I’ve offended you greatly with my takes on these records; if you’re not, I hope I could whet your appetite for at least some of these records.
In either case, you might want to consider picking up Vanishing Point. Apart from all the tracks mentioned, which certainly make it a worthwhile addition to your Dirge collection, it also features several remixes as well as “The Coiling” and a cover of The Cure‘s “A Short Term Effect,” both only available on compilations until now.
Vanishing Point will be released digitally and as a 3-disc digipak on March 26.
Pre-orders are available here.