Review: Self Hypnosis’ Contagion of Despair

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Tackling one of the year’s most interesting releases.

It’s been a good time to be a fan of Godflesh and Greg Chandler. Not only did Esoteric, fronted by the latter, return late last year with a massive masterpiece of expansive, psychedelic and crushing funeral doom, Lychgate, also fronted by Chandler, put out the excellent The Contagion in Nine Steps in 2018 and followed it up with the equally awe-inspiring EP Also Sprach Futura earlier this year. Only two weeks ago, Macabre Omen released Anamneses, a compilation of mostly old material, on which Chandler can be briefly heard singing on a couple of tracks. And that’s in addition to his work behind the desk, mixing, mastering, engineering and recording several records.

Now, technically Godflesh hasn’t put out anything in a couple of years, and the new Jesu wasn’t worth the while, but I’ve spent much more time listening to Godflesh in 2020 than I have in years (during which I (re)discovered the massive Broadrick-boner Fear Factory used to wave around), so it almost feels like they have. Self Hypnosis is something where these two things come together, though naturally, there’s quite a bit more to it than that.

It began with a young, 13 year old Kris Clayton who founded a stupefyingly named stoner doom project, Camel of Doom. Eventually it would grow to have a full-line-up, which would release one full-length of cosmic, sax-laden jam rock already beginning to expand from the group’s stylistic origins. It wouldn’t be released until 2008, right in the middle of Clayton’s tenure in Esoteric, where despite serving for several years he remained as a live member, not appearing on The Maniacal Vale, recorded during said tenure.

After quitting Esoteric, Clayton resumed Camel of Doom as a one-man project. With Psychodramas, he moved in a far more experimental direction that contained many of the ideas heard today in Self Hypnosis, and gave the project its name in the form of a two-part song, and with the help of bassist/songwriter Simon Whittle, continued to shed its skin. Yet while writing material for the next CoD album, Clayton came to the decision that the music that was being born had moved so far from the roots of CoD that it would require a new name, a new project altogether. And thus, Self Hypnosis came into being.

Clayton asked Chandler to join him in the project, and the two share vocal and guitar duties while Tom Vallely, known to both from Lychgate and CoD’s Terrestrial was hired as a session drummer. The resulting album is a sprawling record, as massive as it is intimidating, divided into 4 gargantuan songs interspersed with three shorter ones. They explore the most experimental fringes of doom metal coiled around veins of industrial metal, hardcore and post-metal with hints of sludge and Meshuggah-like rhythms and psychedelic, Esoteric -flavoured leads sometimes only partially stripped of their funeral doom gown. It’s a lot to take in, but worth it.

“Contagion” introduces many of the album’s elements, from the industrial feel and the electronic elements to the straightforward riffs and Clayton’s hardcore bark that make for the most Broadrick-reminiscent moments, the more angular and jangling riffs that bring the Meshuggah flavour and Chandler’s deeper growls. Though the elements are mostly made clear from the start, the rest of the album both digs deeper into said influences and introduces some side paths of their own. “Omission” dabbles in ambient and post-metal and makes use of acoustic guitars to overturn its mood upside down mid-song before returning more vigorous and aggressive than before.

“Divided” begins with a lengthy piano introduction leading into the most meandering and agitated composition found on Contagion of Despair, featuring vital and active guitarwork, double leads from guitars and bass, some of the album’s most downcast moments and a bass-led industrial metal break, while the closing “Succumbed” dives headfirst into psychedelic industrial funeral doom. There’s an extensive amount of things to take in on Contagion of Despair, and it was clearly meant to be so. No overall description could really prepare for the variety found within, and a dissection of singular songs would do disservice to the flow and consistency maintained throughout.

The 4 epics forming the backbone of the record are interspersed with three shorter pieces, but where many would compose interludes to separate the massive entities from each other, Self-Hypnosis knows no such respite, instead using fully fledged, but more compact songs built around evolving a singular idea. The coiling melodic lead of “Leeches” eventually gives way to the pummeling chug riff that originated beneath it; “Empowered’s” juxtaposition of subtle, post-metal leads into staggering, rhythmic riffs; “Scandal’s” unparalleled weight and filth finds a new point of reference from the industrial metal skies in Ministry. These tracks are effective and memorable ways to break the album into sections, and an excellent way to maintain flow while carefully introducing new ideas, considering the changes and variety contained within the longer compositions.

Contagion of Despair is a difficult album to digest because of its length alone, but the material gives no quarter either. It can be difficult to maintain attention, especially when at times it can feel the music is all over the place, but the excellent musicianship all three contributors show, the comparably accessible moments found scattered throughout the record and the engaging ideas coming into fruition as excellent compositions have kept me enamored for some time now, and I think it speaks volumes that despite its length, I’ve yet to leave this album alone after only a single spin, opting for two or three repeats every time.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

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