Return to the Pandemonium
Swiss leading lights Schammasch are of little note here in the States. Over three full-lengths and one 30-minute EP, however, the Basel-based outfit has deeply stunned audiences in Europe and on the Isles with their brand of introspective, spiritual and ambiguous black metal. Videos of “Metanoia” (off 2016’s stupefyingly great Triangle) and “Golden Light” (off 2014’s scarily great Contradiction) show a band of vision whose music is designed to be transformative magic, and whose imagery is meant to provoke profoundly.
Schammasch are well beyond the Bentonisms of death metal. They’re less hubristic than the Deathspell Omegas of black metal. They occupy a new form of darkness, one that’s easy to fall prey to. Much in the same way that the Enuma Elish is instantly fascinating or the Itihasa (particularly the Mahabharata) captivates or the Gylfaginning informs our non-ecclesiastical vocabulary, Schammasch’s music, image and spirit have a similar capacity to transfix our inner resonance. Certainly, at the nexus of Behemoth, (the real) Batushka, Blut aus Nord and Secrets of the Moon, so too reside Schammasch, willing to transfigure the daily and horrifically mundane. But there’s more to the Swiss than simple existence and relative links to artists of similar import.
New album Hearts of No Light is in many ways a continuation of Triangle. It extends Schammasch’s avant-garde venture without restriction or reservation. Consisting of nine tracks tallying over 67 minutes, the album oscillates from instrumental introspection (“Winds That Pierce the Silence,” “A Bridge Ablaze”) to heavy (vanta) black metal (“Ego Sum Omega,” “Qadmon’s Heir,” “Katabasis”) to challenging experiments in extremity (“A Paradigm of Beauty,” “Innermost, Lowermost Abyss”). Its journey will likely be misconstrued in the same way Into the Pandemonium was 32 years ago.
But Hearts of No Light is more than Triangle. It represents three years of work, unrest and inventing new ways to express. That Schammasch’s fourth album is predominantly instrumental is part of the change at hand. Indeed, C.S.R’s haunting voice and disquieting snarl are employed throughout, but they’re done so sparingly. This creates a fantastic dynamic, so when the vocals do come in (“Ego Sum Omega,” “Katabasis”) they’re forceful, rife with emotion, ready to influence.
The album production pivots on observing tenets (noisy, yet deep) and pushing past comfort zones (intense, yet delicate) of the genres Schammasch originated from and have subsequently transcended. Captured by Markus Stock at his Klangschmiede Studio E (Secrets of the Moon, Alcest), Hearts of No Light is start-to-finish excellent on headphones, in the car and even on decent PC speakers. The low end (on “Innermost, Lowermost Abyss,” for example) could be deeper, but it’s such a minor issue in the face of the remainder’s resolution. The drums feel as if they’re properly upfront. The tom hits and double bass are powerful against the mix of churning guitars, vocals, bass and dissonance. And yet the guitars are never too low in the mix either. They’re perfectly positioned, with standouts being “Rays Like Razors,” “Qadmon’s Heir” and the goth/post-punkisms (a nod to defunct Swiss weirdos Sadness, perhaps?) of “A Paradigm of Beauty.”
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