First off, that’s a nightjar1. I guess you could call it a songbird since they do sing, but it’s not an oscine passerine, so I’m forced to chastise Rhy Dongju, the sole member of Lions’den before we even begin. Goatsuckers aside,234 Songbird has a lot to answer for even before it begins, what with claimed influences as diverse as Animals as Leaders, Franz Lizst, and… Skrillex. Now before you take to the comments section crying for me to be CALLED TO ICE for even mentioning such a thing here, keep in mind that (1) you could produce a similarly worrying lizst group of artists to circumscribe Igorr, and (2) Madam X told me to review this so if anyone’s getting CALLED TO ICE, it should be my editors.5 And while we’re on the subject of who is calling whom where, I should note that this bird isn’t calling me anywhere.
Songbird does the best it can with what it has. Indeed, I’m downright amazed how well it works when it does. The title track and “Orca” both mix electronic and shred guitar together into melodies that work while avoiding the worst tropes of both styles of music. There are moments where Dongju’s melodies and compositions shine scattered throughout the album, all caught in the air in the moment before something awful destroys them. “Resistance” throws dubstep bass, shred guitar, and macho b-movie sound effects together into something that very nearly works, but the sheer weight of its own cheesiness ultimately grounds it. To cap off the album, “Epilogue” pairs bluesy arena shred guitar with irritating synth flourishes for an unlistenable finale.
The problems I have with Songbird stem not from how Dongju writes but more from what he writes for. The album is an attempt to make both dubstep and shred guitar interesting. The irony is that neither of the genres is worth saving from its own boring tropes. It’s only when songs skirt one of them that things turn towards the better, and even in those few moments dull synth tones and lifeless drum programming usually pop up to tamp down any positive reaction I have. Chattering away, the album can’t go more than a minute without introducing something irritating and proved to be a chore to listen to.
Songbird is a purely instrumental album, and better off for it, as there’s far too much going on in these compositions to squeeze a singer in. Dongju seems not to have embraced constraint as a guiding principle in the album, and flocks of synth tones fly around the album’s 41 minutes. The feeling that this is the man’s chance to do whatever he wants pervades Songbird, and even without knowing the album is a self-released one-man endeavor, you could tell after two songs that it’s a vanity project,
Dongju’s compositions are usually well put-together and he’s got chops like a butcher on guitar, but there’s just so much here to go wrong and a lot of it does. Even the tech-death adjacent “Ex” rubs me the wrong way, and the best moments on the album are the ones where the least is happening. Ultimately, Songbird does little more than appropriate electronica and metal tropes for its own purposes, without ever taking the time to understand where those tropes come from in the first place. Like a mockingbird, Dongju is capable of reproducing a wide array of different sounds but doesn’t know what they mean. His calls are without context or syntax, and like every catbird fucking around in a bush, this album isn’t worth the effort to chase down.
- As commenter Aquatarkus pointed out, no it’s not and this entire conceit is horseshit because I don’t know birds. ↩
- Yes, indeed, goatsuckers. Nightjars make up the family Caprimulgidae, literally meaning “goat-suckers,” named after the archaic belief (recorded by none other than Aristotle) that they would latch on to goats’ udders and steal their milk at night. ↩
- See what I did there? ↩
- As of January 2019, “Goatsucker” is an unoccupied name on Encyclopedia Metallum. Don’t fail me now, dear readers. ↩
- Stop shouting at me, I don’t even like Smirnoff. – Dr. Wvrm ↩