Saturday, October 24, 2009

#72. Have a Nice Life - Deathconsciousness (Enemies List, 2008)

It starts out so peacefully; a lightly plucked series of arpeggios over some warm synth ebb and flow action for nearly 8 minutes. It’s entrancing and gorgeously produced, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness to it too. The guitar riff doesn’t change but the synth pad evolves into a weirdly menacing bit of beauty as the song moves to its close. You aren’t ready for what’s to come but you can sense that it won’t be like this for long.

Then that bass line kicks in, accompanied by cavernously reverbed drums and a spare electric guitar riff. The energy level just got kicked up a few notches and the sound is fuller, more fully realized. There are vocals now as well, not the best out there but they suit the tone of the song just perfectly. ‘I feel the top of the roof come off, kill everybody there as I'm watching all the stars burn out, trying to pretend that I care.’ Those are the first words Deathconsciousness offers you. It should be obvious now that this is not going to be a nice album. The tone of every aspect of the duo’s sound is dripping with detached menace and nihilism, from the relentless bass line that carries on for the full near six-minute track to the reverb heavy mix it never lets up too much on the oppressiveness. ‘We kill everyone with arrowheads, arrowheads, arrowheads. Thank god that's over.’ The lines aren’t said sequentially, the latter part is an overlay as the word ‘arrowheads’ gets repeated on to infinity, and the effect is otherworldly. It may be a bleak album but it’s insidious.

That sort of juxtaposition carries on over the full 85 minute length of Have a Nice Life’s debut. Sometimes it’s within the same song, like the seemingly abrupt shift a minute in to second disc opener “Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail” and sometimes it’s between adjacent tracks, as with “Deep, Deep” and “The Future” but it’s a theme throughout Deathconsciousness that the beautiful and sad will always be matched with the intense and loud. The two sides never come into conflict with each other, instead the heavier moments served to amplify the menace at the core of the calm ones and the beauty of the calmer moments projects onto the heavier ones. It’s the sort of trick that doesn’t become apparent until you’ve heard the album a few times, but it does wonders on about the fifth listen when it suddenly occurs to you that the climax of “Hunter” never sounded so gorgeous and the drawn out gloom of “Who Would Leave Their Son Out in the Sun?” never sounded quite as haunted and menacing. I may have liked the album a lot at first, but I only started to love it when that little bit gelled in my mind.

The main thing is that it represents the ideal balance of bleakness and beauty. That’s the juxtaposition at its core - actually it’s less juxtaposition and more of a synthesis - with both elements working in tandem to make the whole album cohere in spite of the songs’ divergent styles. Between that core, the production which drenches the songs in copious amounts of reverb to great effect and the overarching lyrical themes that evolve over the two discs, Deathconsciousness might represent the most cohesive unit of diverse songs recorded this decade. There’s everything from dark ambient pieces like “The Big Gloom” to the slow-burning almost gothic beauty of “I Don’t Love” to the crushing, string imbued metal of “The Future” all rendered as part of a whole despite not sounding like they should coexist peacefully at all. As much as the sequencing likes to play with juxtaposition the songs just work together no matter how far flung their sounds may lie if you looked at them in isolation.

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