Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Diabolical Masquerade - Death's Design (2001)


Avantgarde Music ■ AV 55 LP

Released August 21, 2001

Produced by Blakkheim and Dan Swanö

Edited, Assembled and Mixed by Dan Swanö, Ryan Taylor, Sean C. Bates
Mastered by Peter In De Betou



Side One:Side Two:
Movements 1-9Movements 10-20¹
It's difficult to pinpoint the causes behind my original exposure to this release--it stemmed, no doubt, from a combination of my college friend who introduced me to the wider worlds of metal and the metal-based message board I spent a good deal of college hanging around. Dan Swanö's endless appearances and projects (he has 293 credits on Discogs--more than Nicky Hopkins, for the moment!) surrounded his name with an aura of awe, and the release is just peculiar enough to catch my attention readily--in both sound and construction. 

As I've already noted,¹ the work is split into not just 20 movements but 61 individual parts that are pressed as separate tracks. You may also notice that this is listed as an "Original Motion Picture Soundtrack", which it most definitely isn't. There is no movie (Swedish or otherwise--there's a making-of documentary for one of the Final Destination movies, but that's it) with the title Death's Design, and this isn't really a soundtrack, though it does sound a bit like it could be. Then again, Easy Rider taught us that most any songs could be a soundtrack. But the construction and faux-soundtrack status aren't everything: this is also a wildly eccentric, eclectic, and vaguely erratic disc. An Estonian string quartet (though five string players are credited, so something's not right) is involved, as are both Blakkheim's endless instruments and Swanö's (particularly the keyboards).

Each of the tracks has a running time of 0:06-2:18, with the great majority occupying something in the realms of 0:30-0:80, and it turns on a dime at many of those changeovers, from atmospheric strings or synthetics to driving black metal. It would be a huge waste of both my time and yours to attempt to describe the thing, as we range from Blakkheim's shrieking black metal aggression (as in the multi-part "The Hunt") to Swanö's clean and tuneful soaring voice ("Spinning Back the Clocks" in the 5th Movement), from the keyboard-drenched percussion of "Conscious in No Materia" in the 2nd Movement to humming strings and tension of "Revelation of the Puzzle" in the 3rd, to the etheral mystery of "The Remains of Galactic Expulsions" in the 4th. It's a wild mix of anything and everything--not a foreign thought to black metal, which has used keyboard texturing and expanded sonic palettes throughout a lot of its existence (except when relegated to the intentional lo-fi of groups like the purist Darkthrone, though they eventually started using synthesizers and such, too).

Black metal is a curiosity in metal--as a genre, it will occasionally drift more toward early Darkthrone, or toward Immortal, but often even the biggest names will grow restless and experimental, like Emperor and Mayhem. Of course, it's typically considered a Norwegian genre, in that it originated primarily with bands from that country, but sometimes it's the outside iterations that feel the most freedom--Dissection managed to cram black and death metal into a single unified skin for a few excellent albums, and here Blakkheim (he of Katatonia and sometimes known by his real name, Anders Nyström) furthers that trend. In truth, you'd be hard-pressed to nail the album down to just "black metal", as it would simply be wildly inaccurate, as it's only that in places. Even the metallic, heavy, or aggressive parts often deviate from the sounds of black metal, whether it's backing Swanö's clean vocals or echoing familiar tunes in "Out from the Dark", or chugging weirdly in "The Enemy Is the Earth".

If nothing else, this is an album to hear just because, as it's not like anything else you're likely to hear--especially as it somehow maintains cohesion perfectly, through all 61 parts and innumerable genre shifts, recurring motifs, new sounds and styles. It's actually an amusing game to play it and try to guess which part you're on--you'll lose track quickly, as the blends and changes are so nice and clean that it doesn't sound at all even like the separate movements, let alone the 61 parts those are split into. And that's a good thing, and an occasionally rare thing--tiny tracks are not unknown, nor is taping them together, and indeed rapid genre changes are also not news, but it's rare for all of these things to be seen at once, rarer still for them all to work. Some metal bands (and some other bands, for that matter) will happily switch time signatures, but, in their excitement forget to make that change "work" for the song, and it blares out warning signs when it happens. Sometimes cobbling together a scattered set of small tracks doesn't work (to be fair, sometimes it isn't intended to become cohesive), or it seems like a cheap gimmick to force them in where they aren't necessary, but, when broken down, this does feel legitimate on both counts.

I do have to note that this was a limited run of 1,000 pieces, and the doofus who solid it used to the store I bought it from apparently hung it on his or her wall, as there are pinholes in both of the top corners. Shameful! Still, it did come with the bizarre and inexplicable bonus picture disc LP I reviewed as my first entry here. I'm still not sure if that was known--even by the store. But, hey, it worked out. Mostly--both LPs  have some surface noise and light scratching. Probably better to remove two limited releases from such incautious hands!


¹The movements are split into 61 (!) separate tracks on CD, and indeed have their own grooves on the record. They are as follows:
Side One:

Side Two
 1st Movement
  1. Nerves in Rush
  2. Death Ascends - The Hunt (Part I)
  3. You Can't Hide Forever
  4. Right on Time for Murder - The Hunt (Part II)
2nd Movement
  1. Conscious in No Materia
  2. A Different Plane
  3. Invisible to Us
  4. The One Who Hides a Face Inside
3rd Movement
  1. ...And Don't Ever Listen to What It Says
  2. Revelation of the Puzzle
  3. Human Prophecy
  4. Where the Suffering Leads
4th Movement
  1. The Remains of Galactic Expulsions
  2. With Panic in the Heart
  3. Out from the Dark
  4. Still Coming at You
  5. Out from a Deeper Dark
5th Movement
  1. Spinning Back the Clocks

6th Movement
  1. Soaring Over Dead Rooms
7th Movement
  1. The Enemy Is the Earth
  2. Recall
  3. All Exits Blocked
  4. The Memory Is Weak
  5. Struck at Random/Outermost Fear
  6. Sparks of Childhood Coming Back
8th Movement
  1. Old People's Voodoo Seance
  2. Mary-Lee Goes Crazy
  3. Something Has Arrived
  4. Possession of the Voodoo Party
9th Movement
  1. Not of Flesh, Not of Blood
  2. Intact with a Human Psyche
  3. Keeping Faith
10th Movement
  1. Someone Knows What Scares You
  2. A Bad Case of Nerves
  3. The Inverted Dream/No Sleep in Peace
  4. Information
  5. Setting the Course
11th Movement
  1. Ghost Inhabitants
  2. Fleeing from Town
  3. Overlooked Parts
12th Movement
  1. A New Spark - Victory Theme (Part I)
  2. Hope - Victory Theme (Part II)
  3. Family Portraits - Victory Theme (Part III)
13th Movement
  1. Smokes [sic] Starts to Churn
  2. Hesitant Behaviour
  3. A Hurricane of Rotten Air
14th Movement
  1. Mastering the Clock
15th Movement
  1. They Come, You Go
16th Movement 
  1. Haarad El Chamon
  2. The Egyptian Resort
  3. The Pyramid
  4. Frenzy Moods and Other Oddities
17th Movement
  1. Still Part of the Design - The Hunt (Part III)
  2. Definite Departure
18th Movement
  1. Returning to Haraad El Chamon
  2. Life Eater
  3. The Pulze
  4. The Defiled Feeds
19th Movement
  1. The River in Space
  2. A Soulflight Back to Life
20th Movement
  1. Instant Rebirth - Alternate Ending


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