Young Dionysos is that rare album which I feel almost incapable of reviewing. Not because it is boring, derivative, or unlistenable, but because it proves difficult to fit it into the ‘album’ category at all. A new addition to the impressive ouvre of Hungarian-Finnish artist Sándor Vály, the album Young Dionysos is itself only a small part of a larger body of works, including video, painting, decollage, and performance art, which constitute the entirety of ‘Young Dionysos.’ As such, this ‘album’ is unlike anything I’ve yet encountered in this music journalism game1, and while it’s tempting to don my high-art-critic beret and write about the ‘Young Dionysos’ work as a whole, I am certain that the more appropriate course of action here is to use the tools already at my disposal to unpack Young Dionysos, the album, much as I would anything else. “Angry Avant-Garde Audiovisual Performance Art Guy” would be a bit of a mouthful, I think.
Comparisons of Young Dionysos to artists within the metal genre don’t quite reach, but readers receptive to the more avant-garde fringes of metal will best appreciate Young Dionysos. The only similar album I’ve come across is Body Hammer‘s IV: The Mechanism of Night. In five tracks, it crosses droning soundscapes, propulsive rhythm, singing sylnthesizers, and a badly abused piano, and despite the breadth of sound and technique, the album feels cohesive in tone. The most song-like of these movements is “Vine Song,” an unsettling piece of poetry sung with a single, droning melody. Its tale of erotic fantasy is unmistakably Dionysian, and Vály‘s use of layered-pitch shifted vocal tracks beneath the more obvious singing evokes a hazy and dangerous feeling of sublimated aggression.
The immediate response to some of this work is, as I am sure Vály intends, a sort of cautious distancing of one’s self from the sound. Not only with “Vine Song,” but elsewhere with the rapid rhythms of “Drumwork” and the gradual unspooling of “Overture,” I found myself both absorbed and looking for a way out. One can choose to stay in the headspace of this art; but I, obligated to endure it, found it at times strangely compelling. I listened constantly for hints at how these sounds were coming to be, and Young Dionysos‘ variety of sound kept me guessing. Yet for all these virtues, I found the album to be lacking. It simply does not push sonic boundaries, and anyone with an interest in experimental music or the 20th century avant-garde will not find the textures or techniques of sound-creation Vály uses terribly innovative. Since sound is not the exclusive focus of the larger project, this is not so surprising.
The result of this noisemaking, neither gut-wrenching nor fist-pumping, is an album that smacks of the art-house avant-garde; of art produced for an audience who have ushered themselves in to behold rather than to experience. And while I’m sure Vály‘s live performances are much more captivating than this disembodied sound, the sound here can feel alienated, more like a background than a main event. Without seeing, the full picture is lost, and Young Dionysos feels like the incomplete piece of a larger work that it is.
This is why Young Dionysos has been so difficult to analyze; rather than an end unto itself, as a regular ‘album’ is, Young Dionysos is a record of an act, a captured fragment reflecting something larger than itself. It lacks the purposefulness of a compelling piece of art because it is only one of many records of Vály‘s art-making. Sonically similar work, like that of Witxes, is much more focused and more rewarding to listen to because it is meant to be heard and not seen, whereas Young Dionysos wants both but can only give you sound. No matter my interest in the larger work of Young Dionysos, this part of it does not feel whole alone, and alone is how I have chosen to consider it. For a better presentation of Sándor Vály‘s art and of the material in Young Dionysos, see the artist’s (NSFW!) website below. For a better taste of ambient, avant-garde music, see the last Witxes album.