Dismal – Via Entis Review

Gothic and symphonic metal, as with all metal, are sub-genres beset with mediocrity. Nowhere more so than Italy, a country known for painfully-earnest musical excess and silliness. A few years ago, Italy’s Dismal unveiled a record which was, kindly, shit. Quinta Essentia tried to pull together classical and metal sounds into a moody gothic atmosphere but it roundly failed to do so, principally due to jarring songwriting and half-baked production. Now in 2023 Via Entis is their next effort, exhibiting the same squashed album artwork but renewed hopes and dreams. There’s a lot to be said for lo-fi production, even in metal with loftier ambitions, and I was confident that it couldn’t be worse than its predecessor. Right?

Via Entis parades the same blend of classical and metal instrumentation as their prior record, overlaid with a gothic drape. It apparently aims for pleasantry above brutality. The riffs are so bland and simple that they’re almost worthless within the band’s overall sound; they only follow or underpin the vocals, strings and occasionally a piano which control the substance of the songs. Basic chugging with repetitive chords or simple chromatic progressions is all you’ll hear. Dismal may deliberately position their guitars as rhythmic accompaniment, but that doesn’t stop the consequent music from lacking depth. Production choices undoubtedly compound this position, all of which sand off any edges that dare to approach sharpness. There’s a dearth of bass in the mix and soft tonal choices, leaving a thin, toothless aesthetic. Passages that are nominally heavy and passages which are nominally light all merge into an indistinct ball of fluff that lacks punch and danger.

So Via Entis is all a bit soft. To greater and lesser extents, all tracks feature lighter sections that whimsically meander in no particular direction. Soft singing – to Dismal’s credit, their new singer is much better – weird synths, lilting drum beats, and gentle strings occupy much of its course, all functioning together1 in a rudimentary and unexciting fashion. When you consider the immense highs struck by fusions of metal and classical instruments in recent times, Via Entis is beyond uninspired. Long periods of the record will pass without catching your attention; when you re-tune in, it sounds as if nothing has changed. The songs waffle on without saying anything at all. This record may not be confusingly crappy like its predecessor, but it is painfully pointless. It’s not even that there’s nothing to appreciate here, as some parts are reasonably pleasant. But it’s the gothic metal equivalent of elevator music.

Even when Dismal does attempt to travel in a particular direction, rather than interminably meander, it doesn’t actually reach its destination of success. There are fragments of something more on a few tracks, but these fragments fail to overcome the majority. “Return to the Emerald Forest” sounds more deliberately rough and improvised, but fails to capture the freedom that’s critical to engaging improvised music. “White Elixir, Red Elixir” features some of the prettier interludes on the album, but a high-pitched, piercing violin breaks the spell. “All Is One” is marginally grittier with a starker and rawer lead guitar, but is let down by the fundamentally-boring melody and the thin production. Finally, “The Alchemist at the King’s Court” attempts something like grandiosity with bigger horn/string arrangements, but is pulled back by incongruous vocals and a swinging mood. I could go on, but you get the picture: Dismal are unable to escape their own shell, despite their best efforts.

The passage of 2.5 years for Dismal has seen improvement but not growth. Via Entis is still trapped in a cage of the band’s own making. The refusal (or inability?) to write solid leads and weak production choices hamper real progression and quality. It isn’t offensively-terrible like Quinta Essentia but it lacks any particular strength. The album happens but doesn’t do an awful lot between the beginning and end, leaving little to remember when you’re done. My year began with a high and now continues with a low.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Aural Music
Websites: dismal.com | facebook.com/dismal
Releases Worldwide: January 27th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. Which is at least an improvement on the last record, which sounded like different instrumental layers didn’t work together at all.
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