A strange analogue runs alongside my taste in traditional Swedish death — namely, my love for the classic horror fiction circulated by American publisher EC Comics in the mid 50’s. If you’re unaware of their pulp pressings, first of all: be ashamed, and second: do yourself a favor and Google the morbid pencil-work of Graham Ingels and scare yourself up some culture. The dark yet direct content of that material emphasized familiar characteristics I would soon come to recognize in the Stockholm death metal scene, infamous for its D.I.Y. brand of incipient malcontent, braced by a dirge of funeral winds and sci-fi malice aforethought. It was this union that, in comparison, neutered so much of Gothenburg’s output in my eyes, save for a few of the more pugilistic acts. Desultory, a band present at the inception of Scandinavian evil, often managed to exist neatly in both worlds, helping themselves to lashings of the melody inherent in the work of At the Gates and Eucharist, but always mindful to mutilate said musicality with the lividity of their northern brethren. Imagine then, my interest to spy not only a new but final release from one of the originators of D-beat disaster, assuming the baleful form of Through Aching Aeons.
Desultory‘s career has been an odd one. Their first two releases are well regarded for their muscular compositions and penchant for traditional soloing. It wasn’t until the departure of original lead guitarist, Stefan Pöge, that the band would go the way of the Wolverine, drop the extremity and release the rock-infused Swallow the Snake, disbanding soon after. Fourteen years later, having realized that what isn’t broken needs no fixing, the Swedes returned with Counting Our Scars, an ode to riffs gone by, and a good one at that. Swansong, Through Aching Aeons, is a continuation and perhaps a bettering of that return to deathly form.
There’s more than a nod to Slaughter of the Soul in the chromatic melodies and blunt staccatos that comprise the record. Amongst the most obvious of those Gothenburg nuances is the band’s ability to furnish the album’s better cuts with an emotive melancholy without disarming the rhythm section. “Silent Rapture” and “In This Embrace,” are both great examples, combining huge guitar hooks with somber melodies, whilst the title track opts for an unrelenting advance with one of the album’s catchiest riffs. Unless you’re new to the world of metal or have taken up lodgings under a large anti-Swedish rock, this won’t be your first time encountering such ubiquitous motifs. The caustic modus operandi is about as familiar as the shame felt when recalling that time you had 99 problems, and, deep down, you knew a bitch was one. However, despite nostalgia being the order of the day in much of the current underground, “retro” isn’t a descriptor which can accurately be applied to Desultory; a band who dredged themselves up from death metal’s primordial bile in 1989, and were amongst the first to rev the sunlit chainsaw that would inform so many.
Through Aching Aeons sounds great — the distinct guitar tone sits level with vocalist, Klas Morberg’s, raucous delivery and it’s beyond satisfying to encounter an album with prominent bass. The choice mix offers the stronger tracks an organic legitimacy, enabling “Beneath the Bleeding Sky” and “Breathing the Ashes” to spread a little further than their sibling’s genre-restricted myopic reach. A particular standout is “Divine Blessings” with its chilling piano intro and broad span, favoring enough Stockholm darkness to satisfy my own vulgar delectation. While some songs observe a stringent blueprint with a little too much uniformity, there’s enough effort in the songwriting to continuously entertain, evident in the diversity on the aptly titled “Our Departure.” Ending the album with a chain of riffs that eventually collapse into subdued doom and pensive leads, the song boasts a lyrical concept that weighs allegorical mortality against the band’s finale.
Initially, Through Aching Aeons struggled to command my full attention, trading in the sinister persuasion of a release like An Evil Shade of Grey for the overt despondency of Gothenburg’s finest. But upon repeat inspection, the record revealed itself to be perhaps more potent, if less satisfying, than anything else in Desultory‘s repertoire. I’ll always rely on the band’s first two releases for their part in Sunlight Studios’ history, and although it may lack the youthful exuberance of a Gatecreeper or Sentient Horror, this legacy record makes for as fine a farewell as any, permitting Desultory to slip, unassumingly, into eternity.