Dismalimerence – Tome: I Review

Tome (n.) /tōm/ – “a book, especially a large, heavy, scholarly one.”

Naming a debut Tome: I is a ballsy move. Not only does it hew awfully close to a famously divisive metal work (Wintersun‘s Time I), but it’s a sign that a band considers this a “serious album,”TM requiring both patience and effort to understand and appreciate. Chicago’s Dismalimerence is nothing if not serious. Its name is an awkward portmanteau of “dismal” and “limerence,” indicating an ugly or depressing infatuation. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and repeating it in quick succession after a few drinks is challenging. Although the band formed in 2011, this is its debut: a labor of love for frontman Elijah Cirricione. The cover should immediately tell you that this is atmospheric black metal, in the vein of Saor and Panopticon. Serious stuff. The question is, is this tome worthy of your limerence?

Like many debuts, the major stumbling block with Tome: I is the lack of compositional maturity. Dismalimerence is clearly focused on big ideas, and aims to use expansive music to express these. This is fine. But the palette it uses is both oversimplified and predictable, relying on dynamics recycled on every other black metal album you know. The loud, chaotic bits are very, very loud. The slow, introspective parts make Sunday afternoon naps appear energetic by comparison. This subservience to black metal clichés not only dilutes the ambitious ideas of Tome: I, it robs them of any sense of surprise. When the blast beat arrives after a languid instrumental midway through “Orchid’s Reverie,” what was intended as an unexpected, cathartic moment is instead rendered simply mundane because the album – and many before it – have repeated this trick so many times before. This is compounded by the often toothless ‘atmospheric’ side of things, that fails to build any sort of momentum. This de-fanging of many of the tracks contributes to the album’s lack of memorability.

The other problem that plagues Tome: I is the noticeable shortage of actual riffs. While atmospheric black metal, unlike its more aggressive cousins, doesn’t strictly require riffs, and can get by on smart dynamics and texture, the dearth of any real hooks is a major reason this album fails to lodge in the brain. There is tremolo picking aplenty here, but very little of it is catchy or compelling, and it’s often overused, as on “Destined for Solitude,” where the high pitch eventually starts to hurt the brain. Digging a little deeper, however, reveals that there are occasional ear-worms: they’re just not developed in any meaningful way. After five minutes of meandering, opener “Crimson Glow” stumbles upon a glorious little riff that it spends approximately ten seconds exploring before shifting gear for no discernible reason. Curious choices like this abound throughout Tome: I: long, dull passages will be explored for minutes on end, while catchy little hooks will simply be discarded like a child carelessly dropping a snotty tissue.

On the positive side, the instrumentation is excellent: both Cirricione and Matt Mifflin excel on their guitars, and Joey Cassillas is a mature and reliable drummer. The band members seem to instinctively follow each other, displaying a sense of cohesion that belies the fact that this a debut. The mix, unfortunately, completely buries Craig Hamburger’s bass, and over-emphasizes the tremolo, but the production is otherwise pretty good for an atmoblack album. It manages to find the right combination of making the music listenable, without sounding too clean.

Dismalimerence is a band with big and bold ambitions, and I like that. Ambitious ideas do not always translate to great music, however, and Tome: I is a classic example of a band’s eyes being larger than its mouth. An over-reliance on black metal tropes, with an under-reliance on the all-important riff, means that the album simply doesn’t connect as it should. But this is a debut, and Dismalimerence is still finding its way. I would far rather bands were overambitious and fell a touch short, rather than playing it safe and modestly succeeding. While I don’t think I’ll be coming back to Tome: I much in the future, it is what I would call an “interesting failure.” I’m  genuinely curious to see what Tome: II will bring.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Records
Websites: dismalimerence.bandcamp.com  |  facebook.com/Dismalimerence
Releases Worldwide: June 12th, 2020

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