Review: Divide And DissolveSystemic

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Within art and expression, the body itself can be a vehicle for a revolutionary messages—the act of existing, thriving, within a certain space can be provocative, revolutionary and resistant. Divide And Dissolve‘s presence in the genre as women of Maori, African and Cherokee descent while explicitly honoring their ancestral heritage in both musical and political terms has heightened their profile within doom metal since 2017, a rarity for such an expressly political project.

That’s of course not to say there’s a shortage of political music within doom and sludge metal. There’s never been a lack of outwardly political bands within the realm of doom, but it is safe to say that it’s a style whose genre trappings and typical aesthetics can lend themselves to more standardized lyrical content and messaging, typically from a limited range of perspectives given the genres relatively insular nature. The genre’s blues-backed, glacial riffing and development alongside stoner rock culture hasn’t lent it a reputation as a prominent vessel for the sort of message Divide And Dissolve put forth. Like many other styles in the 2010s, doom started to often welcome a sort of nostalgic reverence, a sort of circling of the same musical path, of prioritizing retreated concepts. Of course this is hardly unique to doom—there’s no shortage of OSDM band revivalists barking about corpses, or trve black metal bands shrieking about the devil. But I would argue the more confrontational, extreme sonic nature of genres like death metal more immediately lend themselves to dealing with themes Divide And Dissolve are interested in, like liberation politics and systemic supremacy.

Throughout Systemic, the tracks are all relatively short—with the exception of “Indignation”—which injects them with a sort of urgency. “Punk” is obviously the wrong word here but there’s a feeling of purpose and necessity from how the tracklist is laid out that feels immediate and bubbling with purpose, like someone barely containing an awful truth in themselves, teetering on the edge of shouting out. I’d argue that the urgency of the message is intensified by this delivery—one that’s occasionally more focused on mid-paced sludging riffage rather than funereal dirges.

The development of Divide And Dissolve has been interesting; beginning with 2017’s Basic, the band stuck closer to genre standards—relatively speaking—while displaying an ardent, unflinching portrayal of their aesthetic and holistic sensibilities. Despite marginally being their longest record, the aptly named Basic had a concise, immediately understandable aura, with tracks like “Black Vengeance, Black Power, Black Love”, etc., they were immediate and uncompromising with their messaging. Moving forward through Get Lit and Systemic, there’s a refinement of sound and a cohesion of ideas that emboldens both the music and message.

The sheer assault of earlier Divide And Dissolve releases is initially softened on Systemic. “Want” begins the record with a mysterious piece of synth-collage, one that evokes a weirdly transcendent feeling, as if you’re floating, before giving way to the deceptively welcoming saxophone introduction of the ultimately bludgeoning “Blood Quantum”. It immediately highlights the main dynamic of the record; its sharp transitions between soft and extreme pieces.

“Indignance” is maybe the most explicitly harsh track on the record; its a track whose wavering, vibrato instrumentation injects it with panicked uncertainty—bookended on both ends by portions of uncanny saxophone played with relative softness, cushioning the blows of the heavy riffing. The atmospheric “Kingdom Of Fear” follows, providing a calm in the storm. The track features spoken word recitation provided by past collaborator Minori Sanchiz-Fung, an artist who featured on both Abomination and Gas Lit.

For music that wishes to honour an ancestral legacy, Systemic manages to evoke history with an imperfect lens—throughout the record there is triumph and beauty, sorrow and loss, all in equal measure. The connection between the music and the message was highlighted in Taikiaya Reed’s interview with The Guardian, where she commented that “In making heavy music I feel like these concepts are very connected, (…) It’s so many things. It’s super dynamic, heaviness, beauty, pain. It’s complex.” This mix of emotions encapsulates Systemic more than anything else—this knife edge of disparate feelings, colliding together within a metal framework.

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