Calligram – The Eye Is The First Circle Review

How can music communicate the feeling of dread? While all styles are able, metal’s inherent darkness fits like a glove. While it’s easy to provide aural bludgeoning or emphasize excess, the discipline of restraint takes time and effort. From the post-metal dirges of Neurosis, the avant-garde buildups of Eryn Non Dae., the spiraling doom of Swallowed, the blackened payoffs of Cultes des Ghoules, and the death metal environs of Desolate Shrine, it revels in darkness, plays with menace, but most notably, waits patiently. Dread is an emotion marked by its waiting, feeling the churning in the stomach and the beads of sweat forming at the brow: a black cloud looming on the horizon, a virus leering at our doors, or the distant roar of an engine through the dark night.

Calligram is a black metal/hardcore quintet with members from Brazil, France, Italy, and the UK, professing a amalgamation of its multinational elements, resulting in two EPs since 2016 and debut LP The Eye Is The First Circle.1 While similarities to other black metal-inclined hardcore outfits outfits like Celeste, Young and In the Way, and Oathbreaker are certainly warranted, Calligram’s style begs distinction. Concrete-thick riffs, tremolos, D-beats, punk rhythms, and blackened vocals balance the razor’s edge between rawness and density, beauty and menace, and above all, showcase a stunning execution of aural dread.

While the aforementioned groups profess hardcore influence that aligns closer to grind, Calligram feels extremely balanced in blackened bleakness and punk energy. Tracks like “Serpe,” “Kenosis,” and “Carpe” are absolutely uncompromising, serving densely monolithic doom riffs, pummeling rhythms, and massive drums; “Anedonia” and closer “Un Dramma Vuoto V Insanabile” are slow burns that start patiently and expand to black metal catharses. While black metal provides an atmosphere of bleakness to The Eye Is The First Circle, it provides climax for raw crescendos throughout to reach: while the D-beats and chugs are calculated and nearly mechanical, the blackened tremolos and blastbeats feel starkly unhinged by comparison. Although there’s an emphasis on dynamics and progression, an ideal in post-rock, Calligram never strays into post-black, serving punishment liberally and melody sparingly. Conversely, while punk influence is certainly present, blackened atmosphere is never compromised and avoids the tacky black metal/punk trappings of Ildjarn or Bone Awl. Most notably and holistically, each song feels appropriately placed, even brief interlude “Pensiero Debole,” intentionally manipulated to comprise the band’s punishing but mesmerizing mosaic.

While similar artists’ mixing and production focuses on sludge or hardcore, I haven’t quite heard the density present in Calligram’s concrete-thick guitar tone, bordering on sludge or drone. It’s enhanced with powerful and balanced rhythm section, providing room for blackened tremolo to loom spectrally above the dense instrumentation, as well as surprisingly sanguine melodies a la Downfall of Gaia in closers “Anedonia” or “Un Dramma Vuoto V Insanabile.” These melodies give a genuine sense of desperation, proving wholly dynamic as well as individually. The Eye Is The First Circle’s sonic palette is nearly perfect, balancing all elements to a hypnotic effect. In trve blackened spirit, Calligram puts the shrieked vocals into the background, which may be the only major drawback: they are unwavering standard black metal shrieks, which may be considered a detractor in spite of their supporting role. Similarly, the track “Vivido Perire” sports much more black influence than others, building around blastbeats and tremolos while its tricks are agents of climax in other tracks. However, in context to the exceptionally high quality of its surrounding material, the setbacks feel extremely minor.

After the unhinged beatdown closing out “Un Dramma Vuoto V Insanabile,” I realize Calligram’s intricately constructed songwriting is the most dynamic I’ve heard in years. While comparisons to Celeste’s “drowning in mud” aesthetic, Oathbreaker’s pitch-black focus, and Young and In the Way’s crust punk influence are certainly warranted, The Eye Is The First Circle feels like its own black metal/hardcore beast entirely. It communicates dread as good as, if not better than, many of these acts, already exacting complete manipulation over its assets in an alarmingly fantastic album–a debut album, no less. Its production is pummeling and contemplative, its songwriting tight and intentional, its runtime digestible and rewarding, and its use of influences unique and powerful. It’s a stunningly balanced and haunting album–one whose devastating tones will stay with you for a long time.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
LabelProsthetic Records |
Releases Worldwide: April 10th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Named after Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Circles: “the eye is the first circle: the horizon it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.”
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