Feeling For the Light – Eternal Valley, Sadness
I dropped out of college my sophomore year. I was failing classes. I didn’t want to go out with friends. I was sleeping about 15 hours a day. “Just come and get me,” I said, interrupting my parents’ protests over the phone. “I’m done.”
My sister was a master’s student at the same university, and agreed to take a weekend off to help me pack my things and take me home. I was in the passenger seat of her car the first time I fully realized what was happening to me. “I want to die,” I told her, and as many times as I’d said those words in jest as a angsty teenager, this was the first time I ever really meant them. I had fallen victim to the family curse. I was 20 years old, and, like my sister, my father, and his father, and his father, the chemicals in my brain had flipped a switch. I would no longer be able to feel like myself again without meds, and even then the artificial nature of my stability would never let me forget that I was broken. Every morning when I open that little opaque orange bottle and swallow one of those small pink pills, I’m reminded of that fact.
I’m not fishing for sympathy. Millions of people suffer from this disease, and we all do what we have to do to survive it. I’ve got my meds and support from my doctor, my friends and my family, and I’m doing ok. I didn’t die, and I don’t plan on dying, at least at the hands of depression. It’s just another piece of my own human experience.
There are lapses. Those times when I get on Bandcamp and buy 100 bucks worth of music, or go to the store and buy an entire new wardrobe (shopping is my favorite coping mechanism). At this point I’ve learned to read these signs and understand when I’m starting to slide. There are times when I let it come and there are times when I fight tooth and nail to hold it off. In every case, there’s one companion that stands with me, win or lose, and that’s music.
And that brings us to the point of this new column. “Feeling for the Light” is an ongoing exploration of what’s new in depressive black metal. In preparing for this column, I’ve done a lot of thinking on what depressive black metal really is. What separates it from atmospheric black metal, post black metal or any of the other myriad subgenres of black metal, which itself has done its fair share of sprawling since its inception in the late 80s? Is Ghost Bath considered depressive black metal? They’ve tagged themselves as such on their Bandcamp page, but songs like “Golden Number” bear a striking, almost copycat resemblance to Deafheaven‘s Sunbather. Even the most casual fan would find it a stretch to refer to Deafheaven as “depressive,” so why would Ghost Bath be seen any differently? Then there’s Violet Cold, whose debut album Desperate Dreams has been described as “feel good” and “fun.” Despite the synth pop overtones and the rapturous heights that album reaches, it’s been universally referred to as depressive black metal by anyone who’s reviewed it or talked about it. It doesn’t seem like the kind of genre tag one should throw around lightly. Better to hedge your bets and call a band “post black metal” or “atmospheric black metal” if you find yourself unsure.
Yet in almost every instance, the average listener can pinpoint a depressive sound with confidence, even if it’s free of most of the conventions that might make music “depressing.” That brings me to an important distinction. Depressive black metal can be, but is by no means required to be depressing. In fact, most depressive black metal actually serves as a rather cathartic experience that reaches into those dark places of the human psyche and pulls out something beautiful. On the other hand, depressive black metal does not aim to make things better. It simply says “I know this pain. Commiserate with me. Escape with me.” And that is what makes it such a unique and precious genre to those of us who struggle with this relentless disease. People will always try to fix things. They will always offer advice or platitudes, or they’ll give you “tough love.” Very rarely will they simply sit with you and just…be. And that, my friends, is often the thing that brings the most healing and comfort.
Eternal Valley is the DSBM/atmospheric black metal project of Orszar, yet another stellar black metal artist hailing from the Pacific Northwest. While the vast majority of Cascadian black metal has a decidedly granola bent, Orszar abandons the forests and the mountains of his homeland, choosing instead to travel among the stars into the vacuousness of space. It’s a common fantasy – to escape into that vast, foreign nothingness and leave everything behind. Despite this shared daydream, there are very few depressive black metal artists who choose to explore it, opting instead for the vague poetry of existential malaise. Eternal Valley takes that vagueness and gives it a home or, more accurately, a destination. The theme creates motion. A kinetic spark. Everything about this record genuinely feels like an epic, slow journey through space, gliding in and out of dust particles and moving between galaxies in search of peace or some other life. Heaven, perhaps. The angelic, ethereal synths mimic the sound of a choir while the lo-fi fuzz of the guitar acts as a textural counterweight that keeps that choir front and center without completely overpowering the compositions. Meanwhile, Orszar certainly seems to know his limitations on the sticks, and works very effectively within those limitations, sticking to the basics and throwing in a nice pitter-patter double bass kick when a little extra push is needed. This keeps the album moving along at a steady slow to mid-paced clip. There’s nothing flashy or technically profound going on with this album. Everything here is simply a showcase of excellent songwriting. Orszar wants nothing more than to escape with us into space. And in that, Ascend to the Unknown is an interstellar success.
Sadness – The Rain That Falls Alone…
Independent | March 16, 2015
Remember earlier when I said depressive black metal can be, but is by no means required to be depressing? Well, if it wasn’t obvious from the name, Sadness opts for the former. This 3 song rain storm is a bummer of an album. From the album intros’ echoing piano keys and drowned out screams of some cold and lonely spirit on the far edge of the woods, it’s immediately clear that The Rain that Falls Alone… aims to do nothing but drown the listener in his own sorrow. By the time the second track begins and we finally hear the first notes of a guitar, a debilitating fog has already settled in. Everything sounds like it’s happening in another place, echoing between the trees and disorienting the listener so that it feels like she’s coming closer, but will never find its source. It’s a brilliant aesthetic choice, but one not uncommon to depressive black metal. What sets Sadness apart is the ability to keep a distinct melody at the fore of the music while still maintaining that lo-fi, recorded-through-a-thin-wall sound. It’s a siren’s song in the midst of a violent storm. The cymbals constantly crash and that lonely spirit never stops its abrasive, haunting wail, but the slow melody remains steady, strong and calm. It’s the deceptive voice of reason leading us straight to the crash, wanting us to end it all. And in the moment, we are content only to listen, hoping that the pull doesn’t overwhelm us and drag us to that darkest fate. Sadness beckons us all.