It’s quite in Dodecahedron‘s favor that the first thing that comes to mind when trying to introduce the band is the work of a philosopher they’re obviously fond of. Yet, far be it from me to play too easily into their hand, it’s not the Platonic solids I’m inspired to write of. It’s the philosopher’s views on the band’s own art form. Plato believed music to have distinct and repeatable power over the emotions; certain modes would evoke, joy, languor, sadness, or triumphant feelings. Two thousand years later, nearly all of today’s music can still be seen through a Platonic lens, reaching never too far away from the simplistic emotional categories into which Plato grouped the harmonai. Yet influential as he was, Plato missed a few types of music around the edges.
One of those missing categories: music that makes you want to vomit. Music that twists at your windpipe, turns your tongue to ash, that sucks the heat out of a room. Art that is not based on sadness or anger, but irreproachable malice. Dodecahedron make this. The Dutch black metal architects’ self-titled debut remains as unapproachable as it was when released five years ago, and the opening song, “Allfather” still brings me to physical discomfort.
Unlike Dodecahedron, Kwintessens does not put its most provocative material at the fore; Dodecahedron can afford themselves a run-up. Whatever could be said about the album’s first two songs1 is inconsequential compared to the bleak magnificence of the third movement. “Hexahedron” completely disregards introduction, immediately lurching into the album’s first physically terrifying contrapuntal riff duo that slithers back and forth, slowly constricting the lungs. It is this album’s “Allfather,” a song simultaneously disturbing, complete, and unforgettable. The composition is immaculate, with enough repetition of that harrowing introduction to burrow it deep into the mind but remain impactful every time it’s recalled, and the ending develops slowly out of the same shapes that are present in the first moments of the piece. “Hexahedron” is as close as music comes to a genuine anxiety attack, where mortality closes in to just behind the eyes.
Just like Dodecahedron, Kwintessens‘ long-form composition is one of gradual collapse, and sounds become more alien and obtuse as the album progresses. “Tetrahedron” sounds close to a Deathspell Omega cut, but the band experiments with brighter sounds, dense sound editing and reversals of previous themes past “Hexahedron.” “Dodecahedron” uses bright leads and custom instrumentation to create an atmosphere that’s split between the heavenly and the vulgar, ending with a snap-in block of harsh noise. The incongruously placed “Finale” takes an approach that I’d most comfortably call black-metal musique concrète, and is largely a collage of droning sounds, that heavenly atmosphere, and heavily distorted vocals which presage the album’s real finale.
Kwintessens pushes the boundaries of editing in extreme metal, employing drastic chopping and rearrangement of sound, unlike any metal album I’ve heard. While other bands try to capture a live sound or gate their performances down to a grid, Dodecahedron seem to view the studio as neither a crutch nor an enemy, but as a compositional tool. The album’s vitreous, upfront tones and sharp bass are perfect for the job, but without the snap silences imposed in the studio, “Icosahedron” would not claw away quite so determinedly. Without the glass-cutter-like drones, the band could never accomplish some of these atmospheres. It strikes me that Kwintessens is almost entirely different from any album I’ve ever heard.
By moving beyond the paradigm of the “band,” Dodecahedron are producing music which possesses a scope that even their most accomplished peers, like Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, have yet to match. This is metal with a question mark at the end of the phrase, music that doesn’t fit but creates a stark space for itself by pushing out against and tearing holes in the walls around it. Two albums in, Dodecahedron have fully established themselves as the most extreme and innovative musical group2 to be pushed under the black metal umbrella. Dodecahedron and Kwintessens command attention, demand to be picked apart, and deserve to be emulated.