Dismal – Quinta Essentia Review

It’s very satisfying that in a location where I’ve worked for over 6 years I can still enjoy new experiences. Italy’s Dismal and their new record called Quinta Essentia (Quintessence) represents a number of firsts for me. First time hearing this band; first dual review with a n00b; first album where different resources conflicted as to label; first album where different resources conflicted as to number of releases by the band; first album where my first listen resulted in 3 reviews’ worth of notes. It was all very intriguing to me, least of all the music produced here. The greatest challenge was narrowing my thoughts into a reasonable article. Where to begin?

I suppose we should start with the core style of the music. Dismal bridges gothic metal and classical, principally fusing traditional metal instrumentation with violins, a piano and a mix of choral voices. Other instruments such as organs and saxophones very occasionally arise too. Although all elements are brought into infrequent wider compositions, it is more typical that heavier passages give way to softer passages in sequence. The opener called “Gold Leviathan Part I-II” features this and is the first indicator that something is seriously wrong here. It sounds like you’re listening to an early cut from the studio when the different instrumental layers haven’t yet been properly arranged. It’s bizarrely disjointed, as if each instrument is in isolation and pulling in a different direction. The band has clearly striven for something nuanced and textured given the myriad instrumental voices, but the failure to write compelling harmonies or even time things well results in a strangely weak, thin sound.

Sitting atop this mess are the vocals. Musicians singing in non-native English lyrics is typical of metal and can result in humorous or ignorable quirks. But on Quinta Essentia the ESL issues are so bewildering as to be bad. Whether it’s “let me flowing silently” (where “silently” is pronounced “silent-lie”) or “in time, you are so sexy” (during a soft passage which is designed to be emotional), my notes were littered with issues. I completely understand that English is not the first language for many people. That’s fine. But I’d rather they sang in their native language than listen to this shit. “Alma Mater (Alchimia della Natura)” is the exceptional track in Italian and it makes a world of difference. The lyrics sound pretty and poetic rather than awkward and incorrect. Further, it sounds as if the lead singer on “Gold Leviathan Part I-II” is not the same as the one going forwards. This is because the singer on the remainder is fine (if somewhat generic) but here she is out of time and out of key. It’s dreadful and offers a particularly weak opening.

You demand more problems? The metal elements of the sound are objectionably bland. Simple chugs which largely repeat the same chords ad infinitum represent the “riffs.” Basic power chords and monotonous chugging are the best you’ll find here. Even the guitar tone is thin and indistinct. “Alma Mater” features some pleasant enough soft passages which the terrible guitars spoil. Dismal strive to be more than just a metal band and in doing so consign the critical metal element (the electric guitars and riffs) to superfluousness. And yet, with borderline-worthless metal elements, the softer moments and interludes themselves lack consequence. Dismal are trapped between the horns of crappy substance (the metal) and superficial style (the not-metal). The natural step for them would be to drop the metal parts entirely as most of their efforts lie elsewhere, but this would still risk an album of pretty nothingness based on the evidence here. There is an attempt to imbue Quinta Essentia with more meaning through the use of recordings of the philosophical discussions of Ludwig Wittgenstein but this is superficial and signifies that the band has delusions of grandeur.

The final nail in the coffin is the haphazard and crude song-writing structures. As is typical, the worst elements of the record are all honed on its opening track so let’s begin there. The introduction is gentle, featuring distant drums and background effects, gradually layering with slow strings. And then out of nowhere, with no musical build or cue, the loud verse hits this still moment. This quality of song-writing is characteristic of Quinta Essentia as soft and heavy parts abruptly end and begin with no transitions. Passages throughout are simply placed next to each other with little regard for bridging them. It’s incredibly jarring and another demonstration of the amateurish nature of this production. Returning to an early criticism but through a different prism, the issue of poor substance versus superficial style leads to a further structural criticism: the prettier, soft interludes which I instinctively enjoy a little more still remain interludes. If a couple of short interludes are the best passages on a 58-minute record, there’s a big fucking problem with the record.

Quinta Essentia offered 1 final first to me: chills on account of its music being so bewilderingly terrible. Dismal is a self-fulfilling name, such is the state of affairs here. It’s all the stranger as this isn’t a young band still working out how to sound vaguely professional; this is numerous albums into their career. I can’t speak to whether their prior records are better but this is so half-baked that I can’t imagine they are. The music swings between outright bad and painfully directionless, but the most damning facet is that while Quinta Essentia is ostensibly a metal record, the music is less offensive without it. The worst thing I’ve heard this year? Unquestionably.

Rating: 0.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Aural Music
Websites: dismal.com | facebook.com/dismal
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

Written By: Nameless N00b_23

In my time as a Nameless N00b I’ve noticed a sore lack of creative gusto from the offerings of the promo bin. Not to say that there’s not been highs and lows, but all have failed to tread off the beaten path in their respective genre and excite me beyond the expected. You don’t need to invent something new under the sun to be inaugurated into the steel-clad hall o’ metal heroes – far from it. What you do need is to earn the runtime of your album with the ideas that you present. Enter Italian symphonic goth-metallers Dismal. Slinging their own flavor of weird since 1995, they’ve been through enough full-length releases and lineup changes to be considered veteran fighters of the Heavy Metal crucible. Let me say up front that there’s no doubt that the group brings enough exciting ideas to the table on their latest offering, Quinta Essentia, to make up for many album’s worth of material. But can all those ideas be enough to carry Dismal to the end of their gothic rainbow?

The soul-crushing answer is no. But how can this be? As is often the case with disappointing releases, the start of the journey is deceptively pleasant. The first track, “Gold Leviathan Part I, II” (yes, all the titles are like this) is quite the interesting ride. After a moody intro to set the scene, Dismal begin to reveal their layers. Combining dramatic and beautiful clean vocals with distorted guitars, heavy yet tight drums, and electronic elements we launch into a chorus and lead motif that has me engaged right away. It’s catchy, melodic, and everything I could have hoped for. From then on, the song takes many twists and turns that are equally as unexpected as they are just right. It’s all a meticulously orchestrated and performed waterfall of shades and emotions that has my head spinning by the end of the roughly seven-minute runtime. The song goes from brow-bending heaviness to soaring majesty and gracefully fragile tenderness without skipping a beat. It is beautiful. It is glorious, and for a moment this foolish Nameless N00b thought to have struck the elusive 4.0.1 How very wrong I was.

After this glistening moment of beauty, it’s as if Dismal are spent. Not creatively spent per se but exhausted in terms of quality songwriting and ultimately this is how the mighty fall. From this point on there’s nothing for me to grab onto, nothing for me to buy into. The ideas keep coming though and on this front Dismal continue to impress. You’ve got minute long monologues about philosophy and language, you’ve got Candlemass-esque doomy passages, you’ve got spoken word prophesizing laid to the background of symphonic tango and waltz. But amidst all these ideas and expressions of music the Italian symphonic gothers fail to carry through any consistent core that I can cling to as my lifeline in this storm that Dismal are whipping up. By the end of the album’s runtime I’m left puzzled and empty, not sure how to describe what I just experienced.

And it’s a real shame because Quinta Essentia so clearly shows that Dismal have a core somewhere deep down there that reveals its enchanting mirage from time to time. Dismal are clearly expert musicians and capable of their craft not only when it comes to traditional metal instrumentation but also a wide variety of symphonic and electronic elements and, as already mentioned, the opening track is a delight, and the eight song “Pale Blue Dot” shares some kinship with it. Both songs are testament to the potential that lies obfuscated behind the many layers of creative overreaching.

Ultimately, no matter how experienced or proficient a band is – or how creatively able they are – it does not matter unless they can bring consistent quality to the songwriting. It’s all that matters. Some may disagree with this Nameless N00b, but I believe that a quality song is accessible and speaks to people no matter all the bells and whistles going on to dress it up. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of Quinta Essentia that speaks to me.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Show 1 footnote

  1. As if we would ever let that happen. – Steel
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