Euronymous’s Deathlike Silence label used to brand its releases with the motto ANTI-MOSH, but one thing that makes De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas so brilliant is its immediate connection to the body. Despite his famously spectral guitar style, Euronymous couldn’t really suppress the urge to write pit music. Songs like ‘The Freezing Moon’ hurtle breathlessly from riff to riff, alternating between kick-snare hardcore beats and syncopated grooves, demanding the movement of feet and the flailing of arms. But as the Second Wave congealed into a few standardised “sounds”, newer bands forgot that dynamic approach to songwriting. The music grew faster in mathematical terms, but it stopped feeling fast, and its bodily hold on the listener loosened. At the same time, black metal strayed from the punk discipline that helped Mayhem sound focused and ferocious, even while playing 6-minute songs. Today, digressive and sprawling compositions are taken as signs of artistry, and it’s not unusual to hear about some BrooklynVegan hype band with an EP that’s just one rambling pseudo-song.
Dead River Runs Dry absolutely reject this tendency. On their debut demo they rip and thrash through four tracks in less than fifteen minutes. The awesomely titled ‘Paradigm of Barbaric Antiquity’ is just under two. Each of these songs has so many memorable, complex melodies that it could easily be expanded into an 8-minute epic. Yet DRRD have clearly chosen not to do this, and that ascetic refusal is a cornerstone of their sound. Every riff is necessary and seems like the only possible answer to the riff preceding it. In its vicious elegance, this demo is a lot like the first All Pigs Must Die EP.
The All Pigs comparison is a bit misleading, though – DRRD is clearly informed by punk aesthetics, but they sound nothing like metalcore. Guitarist Byron Struck has mentioned the influence of recent “orthodox” BM, but this band also has a lot of common ground with the rawer Swedish black/death bands from the mid-90s. Dominated by a storming, bass-heavy riff and thunderous blasting, ‘Paradgim…’ evokes the grinding war metal of Niden Div. 187. And, like the vastly underrated Sorhin, DRRD craft strangely beautiful tandem guitar lines that balance on the knife-edge between traditional harmony and dissonance. ‘The Weapon Black’ opens up the demo with some downward-slashing chords and a double-bass barrage, but rapidly turns around into one of those grotesque Sorhin riffs as vocalist Brad Gentle roars a berserker’s creed: “The only surrender is in death.” There is something ancient about the melody, as if it was once wrung from horse-gut strings on the Eurasian steppes. That feeling of half-forgotten folk song is even stronger in the drawn-out disharmonic keening of ‘Last Gleam of a Dying Sun’. Here, DRRD sound a lot like vintage Graveland, revealing a strong Slavic sensibility beneath the Scandinavian flourishes. Other tracks include Saenko-esque bellowing and galloping beats in the vein of Thousand Swords.
Indeed, DRRD’s intensity owes just as much to drums and vocals as to strings. Dan Nahum, a veteran of LURKER favourites like Sword Towards Self and Bleakwood, takes a dramatic and varied approach, refusing to fall back on tropes like the “infinite wall of blastbeats” and the “obligatory mid-tempo trudge”. Just over halfway through ‘The Weapon Black’ he cues a mosh section with a single stomping bass drum, and then launches into the groove with quick double-bass accents. On ‘Way of The Plunderer’ those bass drums rumble continually, making ascending major chords sound fist-pumpingly heavy. While a lot of contemporary vocalists favor long, faint screams or smooth rasping, Brad Gentle spits fast, highly rhythmic patterns and sounds like he is on the verge of turning into a wolf. At 2:30 in ‘Way of The Plunderer’ he matches a soaring war metal riff with an absurdly low death growl, and yet sacrifices none of his volume. A minute later, Gentle howls something about “the fields of glory” and is answered by rousing gang shouts. Moments like these should make every lurker want to strip to the waist like Conan and begin crushing skulls with a greatsword.
DRRD achieve the commingling of barbarism and nobility that is the highest end of black metal. These songs aren’t hymns to cosmic emptiness or some one-dimensional version of “evil”. Rather, they celebrate fell deeds wrought in the thick of battle, and these deeds appear as part of the great red torrent of life under “the sun eternal”. This is death music, to be sure, but it is also a celebration of inexhaustible vitality. The last riff of the demo breaks off with a wry laugh and a clanging, dissonant chord—bravado in the face of darkening fate.
This is my personal favorite demo of 2012, and I am incredibly excited to hear what DRRD does next. The whole demo is on Bandcamp. Listen.