Yep, this is one of those albums. There’s not a sphere to be had on that cover, much less a corpse, but it remains one of the more striking and subtly unnerving pieces of album art around. It’s not like other covers, and Dimesland is not like other bands. Psychogenic Atrophy is the Oakland, California quartet’s first LP, hoping to ride on the coattails of bizarre death metal bands like Gorguts and Pyrrhon that we all love so dearly. Yet Psychogenic Atrophy provides us with a plastic disc filled with a music that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike technical death metal. Dimesland call themselves “abstract metal.” What does that mean?
Think Atheist, but with narcolepsy. Dimesland have mastered the jazzy thrash swagger of those prog-death progenitors, and Psychogenic Atrophy sends lurching odd-time riffs down the bar as fast as your speakers can knock them back. What’s important is that, periodically, the bartender collapses, the lights flicker, and the entire institution of a song is plunged into his deep, dark dream. These fainting spells are almost completely unpredictable within songs, which is what makes the album’s formula so successful. Whereas “Are They Cannibals” begins and ends in quick bouts of REM, “Institutional Gears” spends its last minute in limbo, leading into the lengthy instrumental somnambulation of “Xenolith.”
Dimesland‘s dreams are filled with the obscure and obtuse, backed by the sort of atmosphere I can only assume was obtained by vaporizing Stanley Kubrick’s corpse. Shudders, clicks and glitches poke through the velvety background and scrape against chimes, bells and indecipherable murmurings. And when things get outré, they stay that way even through Psychogenic Atrophy‘s sequentially degrading circaidian rhythms. As the album moves along, the line between riffing and mood-setting atmospherics becomes less and less clear and the music more and more fluid and enticing. From “Dying Foretold” to “Odd Feats are Bid and Won” (what a fantastic title) it becomes almost impossible to orient yourself in the aural Klein bottle that the constantly shifting psychedelia creates.
Producer Justin Weis has helped shape Psychogenic Atrophy into something of an oddity as well. It doesn’t sound huge or enveloping or malicious at all except when it has to be. The rest of the album is almost lo-fi, which gives it the on-edge feeling necessary for music that can suddenly collapse at any moment. Both the writing and production are very successful in achieving the tense, foreboding and unpredictable feeling that the band have tried to cultivate. While the entire album doesn’t feel on edge, it’s certainly not a comfortable or easy listen.
Dimesland have made the unfortunate mistake of releasing Psychogenic Atrophy at that time in the year when no one is prepared to receive it. Year-end lists are being pushed out across the board and metalheads everywhere are consumed in the great works 2014 has already spat out, and only a few will find time to mull over this dense offering. Those that do will not be disappointed.