There is a cliché in psychotherapy (you may have heard itself yourself, and I wonder if it would have been repeated if it didn’t gain traction in thousands of feeble minds) that melancholy or depression is simply aggression and anger turned “inward” when it is frustrated as a legitimate emotion (or vehicle of the same) in the external world. Such a judgment has so many theoretical prerequisites that those who are not accustomed to the specialized language of psychiatry - or who only sip faint-heartedly at the spigot of corrective pabulum as it trickles down through clouds of self-help detritus – often simply accept such a statement as somehow “true” and turn towards a life of reflection that either reaches towards more overt expressions of anger or begs a new passivity where frustration is somehow ameliorated by various (seemingly positive) forms of apathy. The ancients, of course, had directly physical, bodily concepts of melancholy and the medieval theorists drew on them as they pressed the emotions to bear the weight of a materialistic, medical causation in the cycling vertigo of the four humors – related to temperature, seasons, environment and color. Then: an excess of black bile. Now: sworn to the black as an affectation, a series of convictions, a reflection of experiences, a philosophy or a grotesque lifestyle. Is it all still rooted in anger, in a fundamental disconnect?
How, then, is melancholy commonly expressed in metal music? It’s useless to simply say “minor chords” because every metal bands uses them and they have no real political or emotional significance at this point in a music that, outside of genre specifics, employs them to create a clashing, wide dynamic. A preponderance of the same? Yes. A wholesale, forced, endlessly suffocating use of minor keys and “dark” chords, no variation, the inverted use of the major (against tradition) to create contrast outside of the minor in an aberrant rebellion against what must be a rigidly-enforced “normal” lifestyle of thrust-down and neglected melancholy? Of course. This is in itself a mirror, backward (old now) tradition, however, it has existed (at the very least) since Mozart. What we are left with inside the genre particulars, the history doom metal draws upon, are tempo and the length of compositions.
Anhedonist know this and they employ the last two to great effect on this demo recording. Huge, pulsing waves of downtuned ebony power descend to crush, twist, and then ascend back into themselves while leveling out in branching rivulets of aching melody. Confident, brash chords are strummed with downcast eyes and finished in a strangled mute to create quaking milliseconds of bend, release and silence. Song structures are kept simple: this is the very antithesis of ADD-riddled spastic technical death, it’s a hearkening back to much older forms of metal in a line with the varied atmosphere-in-repetition motifs of a transcendent, meditative Finnish trouble, perhaps, or even the Big Three original Peaceville doom bands. The goal is ascension and expression through collapsing time, creating a space by slowing all echoing and repeating segments of melody down to a crawl: melancholy figured as a still claustrophobia, as a slowing heart. When these moments are reached Anhedonist know how to employ dynamics: they violently breach these external, newly-created spaces with either a return to introductory themes, full homecoming, or messily, chaotically lurch into a new trope, blasting pandemonium and variations on themes while begging the listener to follow them down. It’s a sound that belies the received wisdom of inward-turning melancholy being somehow too personal, too solipsistic, too self-obsessed. If sadness, despair and a madness of manic frustration are realms of oppressive silence that endlessly strive for evocative communication, a connection with others (and never reach it), why a style of playing or songwriting that is continually expanding outward, constantly filling a room and embracing all it meets in an immersive, seductive, warm, empathetic ambiance? Anhedonist’s melodies are not cold, off-putting, rejecting, isolating or arrogant. These songs seek to correspond by communing through a shared experience: melancholy as a very real, rational aspect of or relation to life.
A high point of this release, at least for me, is the use of beautifully moving solo additions that spring full-born from the mouths of the rhythm riffs, briefly surface above the gray maelstrom or abyss of the backing sound and then dive down again to return and join in the gathered, collective refrains. It’s organic, authentic and very well done.
Guitarist VB assures me that this demo marks only the very beginning of Anhedonist’s sound and that they have already progressed far beyond it in their explorations. I definitely look forward to hearing more from this promising band in the future.
UA – 053011