Home > Music > Dissection – The Somberlain (1993)

Dissection – The Somberlain (1993)

So here’s the way I see it – this album manages to be interesting, creative, well written for 3 songs – “Black Horizons”, “The Somberlain”, and “A Land Forlorn”. Then it isn’t; why is this? It would be amiss of me not to mention that those three songs are at the beginning of the album, and are the longest on the album, taking up half its length.  Having listened to the second half of the album with much greater scrutiny than I’ve given it in a longer time, I find that it relies on the same songwriting and playing techniques as the first half. It appears to be greater ambition that makes this first half worth my time, and the second one not so much.

This is not, in my opinion, a release with particularly special riffing, or particularly coherent songwriting. Many of these songs feel like a bunch of tangentially related sections stapled to one another. The transitions would be abrupt and jarring if the riffs were significantly different from one another, which they often aren’t. One of the key features of extreme metal is that many songs contain a large amount of seemingly unrelated riffs. When they succeed, it’s because of two things:

1. The transitions between the riffs smooth out the differences.
2. Said riffs are arranged in an order that strengthens their impact.

I know I’m getting into vaguely defined territory here, but albums with particularly good composition (like Altars of Madness and In the Nightside Eclipse) tend to create specific effects in the listener. Let’s take “Suffocation”, off Altars of Madness, which aspires towards chaos. The first three major riffs (verse, chorus, after-chorus) form a circle of sorts which ‘encase’ the listener. They’re played at a breakneck pace and transition effectively into the mid-paced bridge of the song, which importantly serves as counterpoint to the main riffs, creating a sense of dynamics without having to resort to something like acoustics or a doomy section.

Altars of Madness is full of those little moments; it’s simple stuff, like the use of fundamentally different riff structures to demarcate sections of a song (Maze of Torment is the opposite, with complex verse and chorus riffs, and a simple bridge), and the use of harmony as emphasis, but that’s what makes it so memorable after 20 years. “The Somberlain”, by comparison, is a lot clunkier. Transitions are abrupt, riffs are samey, etc. Again, I feel that the musicians simply tried harder on the longer songs, so while they are afflicted by the same lack of craft that the rest of the album suffers, the greater ambition results in more anthemic riffs, more variety within songs, etc.

It’s not like those three songs are masterpieces or anything, but if the rest of the songs were given the same level of attention, this album would deserve the classic status it has. At its basic level, this is a simple combination of traditional heavy metal songwriting with the new forms of death metal and black metal of the time. One area where this fusion becomes most notable is the drumming, which mixes blastbeats (not the ambient sort) with the older thrash-beats and some slower, rock style drumming. They aren’t mixed together or hybridized (How would you?). The guitars are similar; they alternate between consonant riffs and more dissonant, chromatic riffs. It’s like the album is stuck between two modes of communication and can’t stick to one, or properly integrate the two together into something new.

I’ve heard that Storm of the Light’s Bane is closer to the nascent Gothenburg sound, but I haven’t listened enough to confirm this; maybe if I had enjoyed this album more I would’ve. Either way, it begins well, but the second half of it is markedly inferior; never really “bad” per say, but not worth your time. Bands like Rotting Christ and Necromantia pull off the heavy/black fusion better. Sentenced, At the Gates and Necrophobic write better riffs and have more interesting songwriting. Sacramentum (which is often seen as a Dissection ripoff) basically mastered this style on their debut full-length, then decided to show up the Dissectoids at their own simpler, more rock-like work on “The Coming of Chaos”. Definitely check those bands out if you’re into the whole ‘melodic metal’ thing; you can probably pass on this album.

 

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