Distances‘ Diableries has a pretty cover, but one I’ll always remember for a subtle flaw. The Albuquerque-based post-metal unit’s new full length comes beautifully dressed in auburn hues, cloaked in North American fauna. Monarch butterflies cloak the figure, and wrapped around the neck — sorry, what kind of snake is that? Some unholy graft of king snake and rattler, it seems. Perhaps it’s a symbol — the harmless given fangs — though it seems hardly worth it to have a dangerous snake mimic a harmless snake that mimics a dangerous snake. Yet the album embodies these conflicting layers, shuttling its death metal riffing past a mournful violin resting on aphotic sludge muck. Is Diableries dangerous? Or is it a lonely soul, wearing another’s colors to ward us away?
No one source can yield the Distances sound. Though grounded in the sludge and post-metal of Rosetta and Neurosis, the prominent use of violin and requisite circling between somber and savage recall the modern art-crust of Morrow and Anopheli. “Judas Steer” strikes an early balance between the two with a bowed melody nervously stitched over riffing that approaches death metal heft. While some post-metal acts like to stick to downtempo doom in pursuit of atmosphere, Distances traverse post-rock grooves and death-doom dirges, even rubbing up against d-beat territory for a few bars. For those craving heft, “Hollow Ground” delivers a penalty resembling Cult Leader playing swedeath — dangerous indeed.
If that’s not your territory, the somber mid-album stretch delivers heaps of slow-moving violin melodies. “Maybe,” “Market Price,” and “Perfect Is the Enemy” double down on meandering, weakening the album by ruminating too long on simplistic ideas. Cutting these three might rob the album of some contrast, but they would tighten things up – an important factor considering two songs on the B-side pass ten minutes and have much better material to offer. A playfully deranged violin lead in “Crooked Spine” leads along a seasick swing that rears up by an octave upon repetition. As the song’s centerpiece, it makes quite the statement, though that statement would mean much more if the last four minutes of ambient synth were cut from out. Diableries manages to produce plenty of atmosphere when it forgoes such trifles.
Another slight disappointment comes from the production. Diableries‘ mix is well-balanced but the album has a waxy sound that neglects some clarity in the extreme high and low registers. It would also be much better served by a properly dynamic master, which would make the fantastic contrasts in mood in these songs crash out of speakers. One can only imagine how captivating “God Rest” would sound if the quiet sections were really very quiet. That being said, even when squashed, Diableries‘ best songs are still great songs, and the first three cuts here are one of the most powerful album openings in recent memory, just followed up by a midsection that drags. Within this good long album is a truly great short album.
Herpetological inadequacies aside, this album delivers what the cover promises — beauty and venom, color bred from toxicity and toughness. Much like the monarchs on its cover, Diableries is no imitation. Yet it suffers for its unnecessary length. A large proportion of the album is material that only serves to take up time between the excellent music that Distances make when they set out to use all of their talents. These missteps space out monumental songs that would otherwise create a monumental album and make Diableries into an album that is merely the sum of its parts when it could have been more. It’s possible to make an album expansive and capture many moods without capturing an hour’s time. Distances did that — but then continued.