I’ve had my eye on Australian black metal unit Départe ever since they landed an opening slot on the most Kronos–approved tour Europe has seen in the last few years. Jet-setting around the continent with Wormed and Ulcerate is no laughing matter, and all of that exposure before release so much as a demo raised red flags all over the place. But a two-song demo in 2014 allayed my fears with a gale-force mix of post-metal and blackened death, taking tonal cues from Ulcerate and the pre-TGI work of Altar of Plagues. Failure, Subside is the full-length debut including those two songs, and after several years of waiting, I can say that feeling these songs washing over me is no disappointment.
For those familiar, this debut packs in just the right amount of old and new, but it will be even more impressive for those who aren’t familiar with the band. The band reprise the 2016 demo as the last two cuts of Failure, Subside, and sound more towering and expansive than just about anything. “Vessel” does a damn good Lorna Shore impression before stratospheric bouts of post-black that will surely satisfy anyone looking for more after the latest effort from Downfall of Gaia. The closer, “Ruin” operates on an extremely long buildup, but its Ulcerate-does-Altar of Plagues approach to the genre still pays huge dividends. Its opening sample is particularly evocative, and the cycles of tension generated within are often spectacular, especially the hypnotic bass melody that’s hidden around the seven minute mark, acting as prelude and complement to the climax.
But despite the strong B side of Failure, nothing quite matches the power of “Ashes in Bloom,” on deck right after the opener. Frostbitten and vitreous, it begins in a maelstrom and establishes the considerable vocal talent of Sam Dishington, whose growls and croaks fight their way through the whiteout of dissonant walls of guitar in the song’s first minutes. The song’s midsection takes a predictable turn towards Deathspell Omega, but just when you have it figured out — Départe must just be another post-black band, after all — the composition explodes. The guitars shriek between tones and Dishington really makes his impression. Out of nowhere, he belts out in heart-stopping clean vocals; begging, imploring. The ice melts, the ashes bloom.
Despite so many influences and so much sound to balance, the record’s production is remarkably fresh and clear. Michael Rankine’s kit sounds upfront and personal, while the guitars are pushed slightly back and into the higher register. That’s no complaint, as it makes plenty of room for Dishington’s vocals, along with bass and the all-powerful kick drums. Rankine’s alternation between restraint and blasting complete the album’s best moments, and when the bass drum comes in at full blast, all hell breaks loose. I’d favorably compare the kit sound to Plebeian Grandstand‘s Lowgazers album; though it can sound a bit enhanced or overbearing, it’s thunderous and just plain terrifying when the band goes all in.
This year has proven richer in quality releases than any in my tenure at Angry Metal Guy, and Failure, Subside is one of many fantastic albums we have to play clean-up with, lest it pop up on year-end lists without previous mention1. But even among the crowded field, Départe‘s debut stands out as a work of extreme passion and artistry, well-worth the years the band spent perfecting it. It’s deeply cathartic, drawing you further into its shining, hiemal embrace with each listen. Wander in. Shroud yourself in light.
Tracks to check: “Vessel,” “Ruin,” and “Ashes in Bloom”