Ysengrin & StarGazer – D.A.V.V.N.

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If the world of extreme metal could be portrayed in the form of a map like those frequently seen in the opening pages of many fantasy and science fiction novels, there would no doubt be a large swamp, putrid and dense with all kinds of cryptic secrets hidden within. Ruins of civilizations long since reclaimed by grime and undergrowth, ancient visitors from beyond the stars, and mysterious creatures as much myth as they are monstrosity. That’s the atmosphere this three-song split from some of both France and Australia’s oddest give me. Australia’s Stargazer are well known among purveyors of the more eldritch and cosmic end of death metal while France’s Ysengrin are a bit of a cult name among lovers of the more archaic forms of black metal. Both bands have made a reputation over their careers choosing a enshrouded path that by all means could be seen as adhering to classic ideas of their respective genres yet hearkening back to an ideal and spirit more ancient in its execution than what “old school” typically entails. On D.A.V.V.N. this practice of mysticism comes to life in the most surreal 20 minutes to date for both bands, plunging the listener into the depths of occult waters.

Ysengrin’s side of the split comprises two songs, the labyrinthine “Mont Sitrin” and the instrumental ambient track “Auroraexaltatio” while StarGazer grace us with a single eight-minute epic journey “The Molecular Scythe”. Of note immediately is the bass presence of both bands. The fretless hypnotism of The Great Righteous Destroyer has been making a name for itself since back in 2005 with StarGazer’s debut album “The Scream that Tore the Sky” but as if to one-up them, Ysengrin employ two bass guitars in an approach that inevitably will draw Necromantia comparisons. Within the balmy production, there’s a variety of definition and expression in bass playing not often found in extreme metal and both bands demonstrate a variety of techniques and styles both as a supporting and lead instrument. While Ysengrin are black metal, those expecting windswept tundras and incessant blast-driven torment will be disappointed with their slower semi-doomy sound and its smoky slow-burning rhythms. It’s purposefully arranged in an amorphous manner but mystifying in the myriad directions they can travel, by and far the more experimental of the two bands here. StarGazer might not be as initially confusing; most will find them comparable to Blood Incantation (The Great Righteous Destroyer even played fretless on Astral Spells) with their nuanced riffing and fluidly shifting gears. However these Australians are more hypnotic with their gently unfurling waves of psychedelic classic heavy metal inspired lead riffing cast above a backdrop of frequently collapsing drum patterns. There’s always some interesting fill or bass counterpoint going on yet even for the short moment it blasts, StarGazer never come off as hurried or overburdened, honing in with lucid clarity on a particular climbing melody that gracefully metamorphosizes over an eight-minute duration.

Between these two, Ysengrin are the more nebulous and ambiguous. Their riffing tends to be a kind of sustained background strum-fuzz through which a studious and more clearly defined melodic pattern will creep and crawl, every strike of the strings like a march of little insect legs. These more stringent sections give way to strange breaks featuring chanted moans, eerie choirs, and lilting angular leads, glimpses into moments of intense and fervent devotion. This emphasis on eclectic oddity can cause the song to feel disjointed though its ever deepening sense of hazy mystery does help tie everything together. Their short ambient contribution is skippable; an alchemical language is recited over minimalist synth lines, resolved with a melancholy acoustic guitar segment at the end. StarGazer then beginn with quick picked riffing that gradually builds layers of ghostly leads over the careful commentary of bass and drums. This leads to what’s by their standards an outright relaxing, lazily arching lead pattern over which the drumming picks up even more momentum and force and gives way to an extended cleanly played portion, letting melodies sparse in their phrasing yet poignant in their expression emerge from the tranquillity. Longtime fans of the band will recognize a motif recalling “Amidst Fireaies and Haunted Trees” from their 2001 split with Arghoslent (spoilers: ignore their side of it) and it segues into a triumphant marching riff, unusually muscular and prideful in its powerful stride. Paired with a darker set of chaotic chord progressions, the song ends on this ominous and almost warning note, one final burst of intensity before silence.

Where the light of the fairer realms cannot reach, these two seekers of esoteric lore have chosen to conduct a highly compelling two-part ritual. Both sides of it certainly touch on similar ground, each one honing in on a bass-heavy and feverish, hallucinatory sound. Yet where Ysengrin promise initiation into the forbidding black unknown, StarGazer illuminate what was once hidden and guarded. It is a tale in two parts as much lyrical as it is purely musical, one not intended for mass consumption but the fellow explorers of the fog and the murk. Fans of traditional Greek style black metal like Varathron and early Rotting Christ will likely enjoy both due to their tendencies to transform classic heavy metal ideas into more structurally oriented extreme metal as well as those interested in the more unusual, generally early 90’s influenced realms of death metal such as Undersave or Moss Upon the Skull. Yet while this split will appeal to the early 90’s crowd, its usage of old masters’ teachings is something far from the norms of those times. It’s a distinctly contemporary statement on the nature of mysticism in metal, one that manages to demonstrate a clear lineage from the classics yet taken to unusual domains all of their own ingenuity and dedication.

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