Review: Diskord – Degenerations

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Visions from the Psych-Side.

In a lot of typically early ’90s-worshipping death metal circles, it was a commonly held position that with the end of the classic era sometime after 1993 to 1995, the genre went through a dark age that continued roughly until the OSDM revival started around 2008 or 2009. This is a position I used to hold myself and while it doesn’t hold up that well to further examination, it’s not hard to hear why it became popular especially years after whenever the initial wave of death metal began its perceived downward slope.

Having spent a questionable amount of time chugging through a variety of obscure death metal releases from that period, it’s not hard to hear a lot of the genre congealing into an increasingly indistinct slurry of poorly played and often abused blast beats, riffing that has all the chunkiness and speed you want but mostly is there to pad out space and passes in a blur, and increasingly plasticine production stifling whatever genuine savagery and bloodthirst remained. These are words you’ve probably heard a thousand times from a thousand different people who all have enough rare vinyls and CDs to fill up a few Russian filesharing sites but what people often overlook about this “dark age” is that for a while, it wasn’t quite as dead ended as it seemed.

After all, from 1996 to 2000 alone would see some of the genre’s most impressive outings. Immolation’s Here In After, Monstrosity’s Millennium, Iniquity’s Five Across the Eyes, Shub Niggurath’s The Kinglike Celebration (Final Aeon on Earth), A Mind Confused’s Anarchos, The Chasm’s Procession to the Infraworld, Incantation’s Diabolical Conquest and a slew of others make it clear the genre initially hadn’t lost as much steam as we might have feared. As the classic era ended and before the grand modernization of Hate Eternal/Vital Remains/Necrophagist/etc. style bands could truly take off, death metal was in a fascinating position. Lessons from the classic era were being applied with improved musicianship and a clearer self-aware perspective, resulting in a time where the limitations and boundaries of the past were almost vanished and the hyper-streamlining away of a lot of the idiosyncrasy from the early days hadn’t set in. It is in this time period that the subject of our review, Norway’s Diskord, would form.

Although they would not actually release an album until 2007, Diskord definitely sounds like they are from this transition period of the genre. I don’t have access to their early 2000’s demos (though I do have 2005’s Hdfh); many songs from Doomscapes date back at least to 2003 and they were a far cry from most death metal of the time. Taking the atavistic filth of Autopsy, they filtered it through an almost ’70s style psychedelic framework and combined it with the laser-precise innovations and ruthless pacing of mid ’90s to turn-of-the-millennium technical death metal. The end result essentially was as far as I know, the first “modern” example of psychedelic death metal (or “astrodeath” as the lads over at the UK’s Cryptic Shift call it), predating Morbus Chron, Blood Incantation, Stench, Temisto, Venenum, Tribulation, Necrovation, Afterbirth (USA), the previously mentioned Cryptic Shift and pretty much everyone else I can think of.

Granted, there were precedents for their style so it could not be said to be a completely new one. In the first half of the ’90s, bands like Afflicted (Sweden), Disharmonic Orchestra, Korpse, Traumatic Voyage, Carbonized, Thormenthor, Wicked Innocence and early Alchemist (Australia) explored a trippier side of death metal that bears a striking degree of similarities to the experimentation undertaken by the bands in the last paragraph. It would be erroneous to say Diskord and their compatriots are a mere continuation of this style; while some of them are certainly aware of and influenced by these acts, the idiosyncrasies that define them are their own whole can of wormholes. With their third album, coming after a 7 year wait, Diskord hasn’t gotten any less unusual and has adapted well to the changing death metal landscape. Degenerations is their strongest work yet and definitely their strangest.

Degenerations can’t be said to be a complete paradigm shift for this Norwegian band, but is a clear move away from the relatively more straightforward and stripped-down sound of 2014’s Oscillations EP and 2012’s Dystopics. The first thing that becomes clear is that in that lengthy gap, they’ve been practicing a lot. While they can be classified as technical death metal, their interpretation of the subgenre came from a lineage alien to the Suffocation-derived roots of its modern form.

The trio’s chops were always excellent but here they are even further to the forefront with new guitarist (and vocalist) Dmitry Souhkinin from the similarly under-appreciated Defect Designer adding a harsher and considerably more percussive level of intensity to their attack. This allows for a lot more dissonant or even atonal riffing to pop in, almost hinting at post-Immolation/Gorguts/Ulcerate style dissodeath. This is further assisted by far more spacious, screechy chords and surprisingly blunt-ended palm-muting giving this album the most heft of their discography and capitalizing on the jarring rhythmic hammering to great effect. Rather than grounding the music in more conventional death metal tropes, it only adds to the sense of disorienting confusion which the rhythm section plays into perfectly.

Eyvind Wærsted Axelsen’s bass has consistently been audible and upfront throughout their career, but here it goes even further. Its constant pulsing, well separated from the mind-scraping attack of the guitar, adds this oddly detached undercurrent beneath the chaotic string-twisting maelstrom, finding many opportunities to bring forth hypnotic harmonies. Interplay between both stringed instruments plays a bigger part here with even Eyvind’s more straightforward part sort of but not quite following the guitar, leading to an effect wherein the two seem almost but never fully interlocked, creating a restless tension.

Just as impressive is Hans Jørgen Ersvik’s drumming which sees him at his most intense to date. While usually a fairly streamlined sounding drummer who never got too flashy, Degenerations sees him throwing out a lot more chaotic and crashing fills exploding out from behind stampeding skanks with a chaotic fervour that feels less stereotypically “techy” as much as it does wild and out of control. It’s almost reminiscent of Autopsy’s Chris Reifert with his blunt-ended style (coupled with the fact he also handles vocals along with Dmitry), adding to the thundering intensity with a busybodied approach. Listening closer reveals oddities like the occasional irreverent cowbell and subtler cymbal accents, almost veiled behind the near-relentless bludgeoning.

The production is appropriately filthy to match, far and away the most gnarled with a tinge of scratchiness to the guitar atop its bulky tone. The bass isn’t quite as well separated as on Doomscapes, but its newfound density plays off of the similarly chunky guitar while the drums have also seen an upgrade in resounding heftiness. This is easily Diskord at their outright heaviest, but even better is that the production never blurs any of this together even if the album feels like it occasionally veers near sensory overload.

The vocals do feel like they could be a little clearer in the mix which is its one fault as both Dmitry and Hans do a stellar job here. Diskord’s vocals were typically not very guttural, going for more of a wild, parched throat howl adding a manic, disturbingly human element to the music amidst its otherwise inhuman ambiguities. While I don’t have the lyrics on hand, you can hear fragments of the deranged ramblings and there’s a disgustingly wet, rancid quality to their performance, a kind of sardonic snarling guiding you through these sprawling abysses. They’re contrasted by almost punk-like breathless howls of frenetic intensity and lower, somewhat more traditionally death metal growls that only adds to Degeneration’s smorgasbord of revulsion.

All of this doesn’t matter if the songwriting its framed by doesn’t hold up and it’s clear that it spirals and twists in a way befitting of its eldritch technicality. Diskord has always had complex, non-cyclic (verse chorus) tracks that traditionally weren’t too hard to follow in spite of their unusual style. Here the newfound level of sonic violence starts to change that as the thankfully clear absence of catchy hooks and cheap repetition opens a gateway to some very strangely structured music.

Jam-packed is the most succinct way to describe these short-to-medium length tracks, ranging from a little under two and a half minutes to 4:40 at most. These songs can generally be thought of as constantly unfolding tapestries of decay and abstraction, taking off-kilter themes and putting them through a mind-warping blender of gradually warping, juxtaposing phrasings and abrupt detours in a gradual series of mutating musical ideas. Almost ’70s style expressionist soloing breaks out from time to time; oases of cohesion in a sea of maddening rot. Jackhammer intensity is broken by abrupt changes in tempo and frenetic-ness (or lack thereof with doomier interjections).

The few moments of repetition you’re rewarded with don’t lead back to comfortable restatements of familiar ideas; like the disguise of some camouflaged predatory creature, they fall away for some strange new monstrous guitar-malformities to take their place. The tempo at which all of this takes place might not be that fast on a pure BPM level compared to say, Odious Mortem or Hideous Divinity, but the rate at which these songs develop and how quickly they leap from theme to theme makes them feel more feral, savage, ruthless even. This is on top of how they’re simultaneously abstract in their bizarre interpretation of death metal tropes and immensely cruel in their staunch refusal to ever let you get too comfortable or to fall into easy-to-nod-along patterns.

It’s simultaneously far, far out there but grounded in the same vileness and perversity that carried death metal since its infancy, but where others choose cheap grooves and dialed in chunkage, Diskord bristles with an alien deliberation; you take it as it is with all of its constant change-ups and ambiguities or you leave before being devoured by the fleshy, festering cyclone. It might not be in the same style as say, Omegavortex or Ascended Dead, but they’re a good example of a band that never lets their music get too comfortable with itself. There’s always something more monstrous and depraved waiting after whatever extradimensional vomit-spew musicality they’ve unleashed, something that has mostly been a constant since their beginnings.

In spite of that, this is an album that has the same wide-ranging appeal as their previous two albums. While they are arguably not just members of the astrodeath movement, but likely its first modern-day flagbearers, there’s a lot in here that is for more than just that fanbase. OSDM fans will notice that the foundation of their music rests on the works of many of the early ’90s most unclean and ugly works. Tech death lovers can enjoy its jam-packed and high-intensity ruthlessness. Those who prefer their metal more experimental will find that familiar death metal tropes have been mutated into forms foreign to the crypt-dwelling domains they are otherwise typically associated with.

I can go on but the point is that Degenerations has justified the lengthy wait time since the last EP and might even top their legendarily underappreciated Doomscapes. Its main fault is the vocal mixing and its production lending a bit less clarity overall but in turn, it showcases them at the peak of both intensity and adventurousness. It is not yet known if this will be the only time Dmitry is on a studio release of theirs as looking at their past members, they seemed to have trouble keeping guitarists for too long. It is clear that Eyvind and Hans are at the top of their game with Dmitry working with them perfectly. It does make me wonder how the upcoming Defect Designer’s bass will compare given that Eyvind seems to have joined them sometime after their second album. Some might describe the future as bright but Diskord seem to envision it as riddled with bleeding sores and partially fused into some extradimensional hellscape. With monstrous abyssic noise like this out there, I’m completely fine with that assessment.

4.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Degenerations releases August 3rd on Transcending Obscurity. You can preorder the album here.

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