Chocolate and salt. Strawberries and feta cheese. Mango and prosciutto. Pineapple and pizza. What do these all have in common? The idea of taking two very different, perhaps even contradictory, ingredients and splicing them together in the hope that the contrasting flavors will enhance each other. Belgium’s Drawn into Descent are trying the same trick with The Endless Endeavour, their second album, following 2017’s Drawn into Descent. With their debut, they rather awkwardly tried to shoe-horn the patient, meandering post-metal aesthetic with the fury and immediacy of black metal, to mixed results. Now they’re back with a new concoction: think of a base consisting of the atmosphere of Agalloch, topped with some post-metal Pelican, drizzled with the tortured vocals of Grift or Sivyj Yar, sprinkled with a dash of Deafheaven. The question is, have they created something palatable? Do we have a winner (like chocolate and salt) or an inedible monstrosity (like pineapple and pizza)?
The Endless Endeavour isn’t a massive departure from the sound established on Drawn into Descent’s first album, but it is a much more solid distillation of it. Like Drawn into Descent, the predominant style of The Endless Endeavour is a post-metal/atmoblack hybrid, with emphasis on wistful sadness rather than blazing anger. But whereas their first effort, like many post-metal albums, got lost and disappeared in a boring haze of its own cleverness, The Endless Endeavour mostly avoids this trap. It embraces its black metal side a lot more which lends propulsion and momentum to the tracks. The song “Wither” is the best example of this. It starts with a blaze of blast beats, shrieking vocals, and distorted guitars, but then deftly and subtly weaves in disparate strands of lovely, shimmering post-metal. The gorgeous and melancholic groove, once established, continues to surf the momentum established by the fury of the opening minutes, while highlighting their intensity. “Dystopia” is similar, smartly allowing the alternating styles of music to draw out the flavors in each other. Drawn into Descent does occasionally succumb to the curse of the post-metal doodle, however. Both “…Embrace Me” and the first part of “The Endless Endeavour,” suffer from just a little too much atmosphere and repetition. Hardly deal-breaking, but noticeable enough when everything else is of such high quality.
The song-writing and musicianship are also noteworthy. Drawn into Descent features compelling and inventive guitar work, best highlighted by the solos. I’m not sure how he manages it, but guitarist J infuses real sadness and longing into his playing, best heard on “Death…” and “Wither.” The tracks are all unique but structured in a logical way that builds toward an emotionally satisfying climax. A good example is closer, “The Endless Endeavour.” The song recovers from its slightly dopey start to explode into a quite remarkable fusion of all of the album’s various styles. It highlights that while the genres being combined are vastly different, the songs don’t feel like quilts of haphazard elements stitched together, but natural variations constructed around a central theme of loneliness and regret.
The Endless Endeavour has a gritty, slightly lo-fi production which lends it a pleasing air of authenticity without needless compressing. There is also enough variety that the individual song run-times, and The Endless Endeavour itself, zip by. Other than the occasional extraneous post-metal meanderings, complaints are minor. B’s tortured, occasionally high-pitched screams complement the overall depressive tone of the music, but they may not be to everyone’s liking.
Overall, The Endless Endeavour is an impressive and engaging sophomore effort and a major improvement on Drawn into Descent’s first album. The disparate elements could easily have simmered into an ugly, unappetizing melting pot. Instead, they combine effectively to produce a balanced, fresh and harmonious feast, with only minor faults. The result is art that is deep, meaningful and true. If your sad, damaged heart needs comfort-food, and you’ve worn out your copy of Eneferens, this delicious recipe will provide all the nourishment it needs.