Deathspell Omega

Brilliant and frustrating – two words that sum up Deathspell Omega. There’s no question that since Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, the mysterious French duo has offered up some of the most staggeringly complex and challenging black metal the genre has ever seen. However, in their never-ending quest to batter, slash and violate the genre’s boundaries, the band has mutated away from some of the things that impressed me in the first place. Paracletus takes some steps to correct course, but it also loses some other valuable elements along the way.

As Paracletus is the third part in a planned trilogy, let’s start with some context and jump back to SMRC. Although I didn’t hear it until after its release (and missed out on the almost comical furor surrounding the lyrics), it instantly impressed me with its controlled chaos and dramatic scope. Tracks like “Sola Fide II” and “Hétoïmasia” seemed at first to be nothing more than screaming, destructive tornadoes; yet once inside the centers, it became apparent that all of that jagged debris was whirling around you in precise and artful patterns. Melodies were aggressively dissonant and defied memorization, but the serpentine thread was there for you to follow, provided you had the time and the right frame of mind. The Kénôse EP (although not part of the trilogy) was even better, perhaps because it was more compact, but also because the riffs and compositions were even more focused and intelligible, yet without losing an ounce of venom or violence in the process.

However, I felt that Deathspell Omega lost a lot of that flow on Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeturnum and its EP follow-up, Chaining the Katechon. Both were more blistering and twisted than ever, and in some passages, the balance of precision and psychosis was just as hypnotic. Yet the haphazard compositions aggressively twisted away from comprehension, as if willfully choosing to remain esoteric to all but a chosen and very patient few. The thicker mix didn’t help matters either, making headphones all but mandatory. On a more positive note, the band also delivered their most inspired and bizarre ambient passages to date, full of chiming, spidery melodies. Those fever-dreams made the scraping industrial dirges on (countrymates) Blut Aus Nord’s epic The Work Which Transforms God seem standard and unthreatening by comparison. Had Deathspell Omega released a full album of those unsettling interludes, it’d be an instant genre classic.

And so all of that backstory brings us to Paracletus, which halts Deathspell Omega‘s march into obscurantism and goes for a more streamlined approach instead. It’s as discordant as ever, but it’s got a far cleaner mix and more unified compositions. Tracks like “Wings of Predation” and “Phosphene” are just as furious as past assaults, but the sound – bright and galvanized, like icy water sluicing blood from stainless steel walls – makes it far easier to weather the storm.

Unfortunately, these storms are not the whirling melodic blizzards of Kénôse, and instead rely on punctuated, stabbing chords and jangly, brittle chimes like a black metal Dillinger Escape Plan. At least these blasts have their own logic and structure, but you’ll be hard-pressed to remember a passage once the song has wrenched it away for yet another chaotic assault. Tempos also vary dramatically – lurching stomps in “Abscission” and “Phospene,” a jazzy sauntering rhythm partway through “Malconfort,” even a thrashy opener to “Have You Beheld the Fevers.”

Songs also flow more naturally from one to the next, creating a much more consistent experience overall. Interludes like “Dearth” and “Epiklesis II” act as well-planned bridges, with the latter’s melody showing up again in album closer “Apokatastasis Panton.” The cohesion throughout Paracletus mostly comes from the palette though, which is far more unified than the wildly veering moods of both SMRC and Fas. Yet this isn’t entirely a good thing. Although Paracletus’ slower moments may be woven from the same ragged cloth as the more furious tracks, they’re nowhere near as captivating (or repulsive) as the ambient passages on Fas. It’s the one area where I would have liked more continuity with that album.

Textural quibbles aside, none of these improvements mean that Paracletus is an accessible listening experience. As always, Deathspell Omega offers very little in the way of conventional rewards, and visceral impressions aside, it takes a lot of work to appreciate the band’s jagged, difficult compositions beyond a purely intellectual level. The lack of melodies – dissonant or otherwise – means that the impact of the album will stay with you even if the details do not. Deathspell Omega’s mutated, abrasive style of black metal almost requires a rewiring of the brain to appreciate, given our natural affinities for pattern-recognition.

There has to be someone out there who is able to digest Deathspell Omega’s output to the point where it flows more naturally (the band included, one hopes), but perhaps it’s not been written for that end goal at all. That does seem frustrating and depressing, not to mention cynical, to think that this is simply chaotic for chaos’ sake. However, given the band’s philosophical bent – which presumably does not look favorably on the creation of a fair and ordered universe – then I suppose that’s appropriately poetic.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
November 29th, 2010


  1. Commented by: faust666

    Not a fan of this band or this genre but still a very well written review indeed.

  2. Commented by: shaden

    band is amazing,a superb and natural progression as seen in all their work.definitely a supremely far cry from the first lp and previous hirilorn material.

  3. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    can’t wait to hear this.

  4. Commented by: Clauricaune

    This band is original and creative as hell, but I always have the same problem with their albums: I sort of like the music while I listen to it, but it’s not something that compels me to listen to it over and over. I give it a couple listens, good stuff, but I can perfectly live without it. I don’t know if it’s me or there isn’t really that much substance in here: all I hear is flash.

  5. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    ^^ not just flash, in my opinion. I think the problem, if you can call it that… is that the music is just so intense and ‘out there’, that’s its not very memorable, so your brain doesn’t tell you to listen to it again. Everything after SMRC has been something I have to be “in the mood” to listen to . It’s not the albums fault…this just isn’t really easy listening music !

  6. Commented by: seaofcartilage

    Incredible band, great record, decent review.

    I would never in a million years reference the Dillinger Escape Plan in regards to any of their records, though.

  7. Commented by: Khlysty

    I consider “Paracletus” as DsO’s “prog rock” record. There were moments in there that reminded me of King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator or some of the more “dark” bands of that kind. Wonderful record and a fitting closer of a very ambitious endeavor.

  8. Commented by: JH DOOM

    A very interesting album indeed. I’m not sure I like it as much as SMRC, Fas or Kenose, but I need to listen to it more. I’d say this album might be the most accessible of their post-Inquisitors of Satan stylistic shift.

  9. Commented by: gabaghoul

    hey seaofcartilage I think your girlfriend had a fun take on it:

    “Deathspell Omega – Wings of Perdition
    “This is irritating. I kind of miss Acid Witch right now. Ughhhh. Okay. That’s more than enough. So it’s just a couple of friends playing as fast as they can in separate rooms? Then mixed together. Ok, that’s seriously enough. WHAT IS THIS? I HATE THIS. Why are you still playing this? Do you like this band? There’s nothing to hear. At the end, they all did that little cohesive part, but it’s too little, too late.”

    great concept btw

  10. Commented by: bast

    Still waiting for this, Kenose and Fas… rule. All this debate on the web just made more curious.

  11. Commented by: axiom

    A difficult listen, but my brain must not be wired correctly because I love this kind of stuff. To write this off as flash is a riot, holy shit there’s way easier ways to be flashy.

  12. Commented by: 19ADD

    Interesting review, although I must say this is my favorite release from DSO so far. It took a lot of repeated listens to really let it sink in. Now plenty of material is stuck in my head, lots of very interesting guitar melodies that in my opinion are very memorable. The band is progressing past the realms of black metal, or really any other style of metal – which to me shows great courage and virtuosity. The vocal approach and layering in this album is very intense, not to mention the lyrics.

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