Review: Desultory – Counting Our Scars

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Most reformations 20 years out are failures, and especially if classic members (particularly songwriters) are missing. I say that not to be mean, but to be honest—for every success story of a classic band getting back together, there’s fifteen more disappointing ones that would have been better off staying deceased.

For a band like Desultory, who went to shit back in the day after their main songwriter left, it’s hard to expect much from albums written years after the fact with a timely reformation at the height of interest in the old-school Swedish sound. Some similar bands that did the same thing came back far more reminiscent of later At the Gates than of their material before reforming, and others just didn’t do a good job reforming regardless of the style of new material. For that reason I was a little reluctant to hit their reunion stuff for a long time and finally bit the bullet on it recently just because I associate the label that put out their reunion albums, the mighty Pulverised Records, with quality and thought it might be worth it—and how right I was.

Despite years of silence and a shitty album in between 1994’s Bitterness and 2010’s Counting Our Scars, Desultory has proven that sometimes reunions are absolutely the right call, regardless of any suspicious timing, absence of important musicians, or precedence of mediocre reformations. Fans of Bitterness particularly should like this Counting Our Scars, as the album feels largely like it picks up where Bitterness left off, with only a few changes. The core of the music remains intense, riff-driven Swedish carnage with insane, creative drums pushing the music forward; even fans normally driven off by melody may well like this one and the previous Desultory material (minus the awful Swallow the Snake) because of the proliferation of powerful, clever riffing and the largely-fast songs. 

What makes Desultory special, however, is the far moodier melodies and longer melodic riffs that the blazing riffs build songs around. As great as the riffs are, and the drumming, the selling point to me for Desultory has always been how great the melodic lines are, and how each song swells to gorgeous peaks that mirror perfectly the tales of self-reflection, misery, and regret that vocalist/guitarist Klas Morberg sings about. A big difference between this album and the classic material is an increase in gorgeous Gorement-esque center-panned lead guitar parts that transform some sections that should be aggressive into something far more beautiful, and heighten sections that would be melodic even without the lead guitar.

On the topic of Morberg it also must be mentioned how perfectly he merged the early vocal styles that fans loved (or didn’t) on Into Eternity and Bitterness; at some point between those two albums, he started using the more hardcore-ish yell that on Bitterness, and on Counting Our Scars and the on the band’s swansong Through Aching Aeons, he brought back something that was between the growls of yesteryear and the howls of Bitterness to form a tone that is instantly identifiable, extremely easy to understand, and sounds absolutely killer.

I talked some about how most reformations are not ideal in one way or another, but Desultory in 2010 was a band operating on all cylinders, with each aspect of performance and songwriting being far better than it had any right to be. I can’t say that it’s perfect, because there’re little sections that could have been cut, and it’s a couple minutes longer than it had to be—but not much is perfect, and Counting Our Scars is excellent on a level I never expected. If you’re reading this review and haven’t hit modern Desultory, or the band at all, I urge you to give it a try instead of sleeping on their recent material like I did for too long. 

Desultory have unfortunately broken up again since Counting Our Scars came out, but you can still stream or buy the album from Pulverised Records, or read through their now-defunct Facebook page here.

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