What You Don't Know Is Frontier

This album is beyond me. Not as a writer or extreme music enthusiast, but as a human being. It opens doors to places I have never seen, and maybe never want to see again. Yet I keep listening. I have been contemplating this record for over a month, and I still can’t make heads or tails of it. For a while, I wasn’t even sure if I liked it. The majority of extreme doom/drone that I listen to is somewhat one dimensional, in that you know what you’re in for.  But this is somehow more complex. Infinitely more complex, even. Trying to understand this record was like trying grab a handful of water. It’s there, and I can see and feel it, but I just can’t grasp it. But for the purposes of this review I’ll do my best.

I think part of the reason this album took so long to sink in was because I read the press release before hearing anything. And to those of you who are truely interested in having a pure experience with this album, stop reading now! Just go out and buy it. Trust me, this is a journey like none other. The press release, though extremely informative, put in some preconceptions which ruined the first couple of listens. But once I could live with this album in my own space and mind, it really started to sink in. The exceptional depth and expanse of What You Don’t Know Is Frontier is very moving. This seems to have a different purpose in comparison to other works of this genre/style. It also rises above genre labels. There’s something spiritual and cosmic about it. Something I can’t even put into words, but have experienced with a few other pieces of music. Thomas Newman’s score to “American Beauty” and the motets of Josquin des Prez come to mind. That’s not to say this album sounds anything like them at all, but the spiritual depth I feel is comparable.

This is more of a symphony in four movements rather than an album. Opening title track is 15 minutes long, and acts like an introduction. Not the stereotypcial introduction, but something with purpose. When I listen to it, I feel this cathartic pain. Like I’m shedding an old skin and preparing for something new. Churning guitars scathe you like sandpaper. A forever droning organ provides this element of suspense. I’m wary to call this “drone” because it doesn’t really have the same effect. The tension is so thick you can’t even move, forever awaiting this prophesized event. It’s so big the universe itself just stops and listens. Yet the track ends without resolution, as if to say waiting is the substance; the emotion to revel in. Honestly, the effectivness of this track is monumental.

“Christopher Columbus” is the second track of this album, and with it leaves the unique tension of the first. You are greeted with a barren expance of low bass rumblings and forever rolling cymbals. A rising static of bass and guitar lulls you into an uneasy meditation. Then drums enter, primal and rising.  Ever so slowly, until the doors to hell are opened. There is much about this track which must be heard to understand. It truely becomes horrific.

You’d think a softer, more mellow track would be a respite from those two monsters, but such is not the case with “A Game In Hell, Hard Work In Heaven”.  This is the most cathartic emotional outpouring I’ve heard in a great long time. Marking a return of that smooth organ, it plays a dirge unlike any other.  The first (and only) occurance of voice in this album is just magical. A woman, siging in what sounds like her native Indian tongue, makes this track a mix between Earth and Dead Can Dance. And it gets HEAVY, aided by this crestfallen recurring melody in the guitars. The track concludes with the only protion of this album I’m not sure about. Believe it or not, it gets fast. Not blast beat fast, but it goes into sort of a polka. Don’t worry, no accordions here, it still uses the same instruments and the same melodic and harmonic material. But regardless, it’s unexpected, and almosts doesn’t match the rest of the album.  Small complaint, though.

And after that emotional outpouring, we conclude the album with a very gruesome track entitled “A Trap For Judges”. It strikes me as a mix between Esoteric, Evoken and Catacombes, at first. The opening 16 minutes or so are this slimmy, contorting doom. It’s nasty and heavy. Riffs often elude to a prettier melody before corroding into something disgusting. Then a moment of stillness as that droning organ holds the same chord for what seems like a welcome eternity. Its sound slowly morphs into something cleaner, and then concludes the album with a solitary epilogue. You find yourself waking up from the strangest, most stirring dream you’ve ever had. And your life is forever changed by it.

I have little else to say about this album. It takes a serious commitment to try any piece together what is going on. But if you want something which reverberates the very landscape of this earth, I reckon this is one of those albums.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Belgarath
November 24th, 2008


  1. Commented by: Shawn Pelata

    I must have it…

  2. Commented by: sandwiches

    I need to check this out. Nice review

  3. Commented by: ceno

    excellent write-up, man! I am intrigued.

  4. Commented by: axiom

    Jeez, I must give this a good listen. Great review Belgarath. I’ve only just begun with Esoteric’s latest.

  5. Commented by: bast

    Yes, the best drone/doom my mind has had the pleasure to experience this year. Thank you.

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