Canis Dirus – Independence to the Beast Review

Our sharky hero runs, surgically-repaired legs pumping, swag clutched to his chest. He doesn’t look back. He doesn’t need to. He knows what’s chasing him: a velveteen puppet and a number that is two times six. Eventually, lungs heaving, he sinks down behind a dumpster to study his haul… This, dear reader, is a more a less accurate depiction of what it takes to successfully smuggle something tagged as “black folk metal” out of the promo sump and how I come to be reviewing Minnesotan duo Canis Dirus‘ third full-length, Independence to the Beast. Having successfully evaded my pursuers, what have I actually got on my hands? Previous outings for Canis Dirus were solid cuts of mid-paced depressive black metal, with doom around the edges and tinged, just occasionally, with a hint of proginess (see “Garden of Death” from the debut and “We Stand Paralyzed by an Unhurried Mist” from its successor).

But, due to some exceptionally difficult personal circumstances for songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Todd Paulson,1 it’s eight years since Canis Dirus’ last record, Anden om norr. While that lengthy period away from music has not led to a complete change of style, Independence to the Beast is simultaneously more direct and more subtle than its predecessors. In parts—like opener “We are the Ancient Ones” and “Extreme Might of Resolve”—Canis Dirus deal in bleak, smothering black metal brutality, channeling the likes of NONE. At other times, and often within the space of a single track, the band moves fluidly into more ruminative, doom-laden tones before shifting into acoustic folky mode (“Unyielding”), at times occupying a similar sort of space to Winterfylleth. The almost-12 minute epic “The Child and the Serpent,” for example, is reminiscent of ROSK’s Miasma, while the first time I heard the start of “To Cast the Runes,” I was weirdly reminded of Alice in Chains’ “I Stay Away.”

The moods and movements that Independence to the Beast goes through feel like a reflection of the journey its creator has been on, by degrees brutal, harrowing, oppressive and, occasionally, hopeful. Not only has Canis Dirus‘ enforced hiatus seen real growth in songwriting, but its also brought a huge improvement in the vocals. While I enjoyed their first two albums, I struggled with the high-pitched DSBM screams from vocalist Rob Hames, which for me just didn’t gel with doom-tinged bleakness of tracks like “Anden om nor.” Independence to the Beast finds Hames in a more versatile mood, offering muted but haunting cleans (“Father”), as well as adopting a more rasped delivery for the harsh vocals, albeit still at the higher end of the range, which works much better.

Moving smoothly between acoustic passages, brief explosions of pummelling fury and melodic, atmospheric black metal, Independence to the Beast is an impressively crafted album. For the most part. One strange choice made is the jarring shift to a heavy metal chug that closes out the chilling hopelessness of “Extreme Might of Resolve,” a choice that fits with precisely nothing else on the record. For me, Canis Dirus also slightly overdo the spoken word sections, particularly on the otherwise stunning “The Child and the Serpent.” The production is, like the music, very good—again, for the most part. The mournful guitar tone works perfectly for the moods conjured, while the melodic and acoustic sections feel fresh and vibrant if those adjectives are compatible with the desolation of Independence to the Beast. But there is some real inconsistency in the drum sound, which moves from fine if unremarkable (“We are the Ancient Ones,” for example), to something resembling a pneumatic drill in sections of the sprawling and excellent closer “Unyielding.”

These complaints are relatively minor, however, when viewed against the emotional heft generated by Canis Dirus across the full 50 minutes of the record. Independence to the Beast isn’t as unremittingly bleak as something like NONE’s Damp Chill of Life but it drags the listener into deep emotional pits of pain and longing, before gradually lifting you again. The tag black “folk” metal is perhaps slightly misleading, in that this does not incorporate folk in the way that, say, Agalloch does. Canis Dirus use gentle acoustic moods that can only really be called folk at a push. But I don’t care. Call it what you like, Independence to the Beast is a moving, emotionally raw album that I enjoyed almost every minute of.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 1411 kbps wav
Label: Bindrune Recordings
Websites: canisdirus.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/canisdirusofficial
Releases Worldwide: March 6th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. I don’t have space here to get into the details but, if you would like to know more, you can read an interview with Paulson here and suffice to say that, having become a father myself last year, my heart goes out to him and his family.
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