Red Rot – Mal de Vivre Review

The dissolution of Davide Tiso’s flagship project, Ephel Duath has left a scar, a gloom, that has festered in memory and stained the landscape that Red Rot oozes forth. Though not usually steeped in this depth of emotion, Tiso (also of Howling Sycamore) has a knack for writing music that challenges, even aiming to frustrate the listener, and, quite frankly, doesn’t always land—but that’s precisely why I’m excited to at least try what this Italian expat has to offer. Always making an effort to surround himself with a solid cast for his projects, Tiso recruited members of fellow Bay Area act, Dawn of Ouroboros,1 to round out the rhythm section. Most importantly, though, his old creative partner from Ephel Duath, Luciano Lorusso George, has emerged from dormancy with a voice corroded gracefully by time—expressive in warble and bark. Mal de Vivre is an album that only could have been written and triumphed by Tiso and George—two men who have succeeded, seethed, and reunited reinvigorated.

Mal de Vivre, true to the expression’s definition of “profound unhappiness,” tackles, grief, longing—any emotional color you could imagine on the aged sadboi spectrum. As such, he lyrics throughout come across as mantras to a nervous breakdown: “…my curse is to remember every moment of this life” (“After the Funeral”), “I need lies to feed the monster inside” (“Dysmorphia”). Yet, familiarly, every moment of Mal de Vivre still echoes Tiso’s teetering fretwork, from the spider silk refrain that tangles through “Ashes” to the weeping lead that ships off “Under Attack.” Naturally, Red Rot defies simple categorization, with progressive gothic sludgegrind being the only elegant tag that fits the bulk of what occurs in the scattershot 17 tracks that run the course of this 37 minute work. Don’t fall prey to seemingly disjoint nature of it all; in its grueling brevity, Mal de Vivre remains dense, vital, and engaging.

Red Rot endeavors the labyrinthian task of navigating their audience through this opus’s many twisted layers by carefully mapping stylistic shifts. Though diverse in avant-leaning musical language, Tiso hasn’t ever ventured into death-adjacent waters, which results in the laying of uncommon sonic anchors, including but not limited to gothic doom and throbbing sludge, to steer the ship. Following a few tracks with tricks that sit between the oddball grind of A Million Dead Birds Laughing and thick sliding grooves of Crowbar (“Undeceased,” “Near Disaster”), “After the Funeral” stands as the first major departure, killing the lights with a droning riff as big as any of the best Paradise Lost dirges. Similarly, after a few more rounds of skronky riffage and therapeutic vocal lashings, “Conversation with the Demon” pulls us into a deeply resonant, sorrowful melody, closing with a pulverizing blackened outro. The sneakily jazzed sound of Ephel Duath manages to find a way in, particularly on “Dishonorably Discharged,” but Red Rot spreads over that homage, too, with a monster down-tuned chug to churn away the pain.

In between the turning points, Tiso hypnotizes us with hypnotic dissonant phrases. From the onset, he lays his mission clear with the furious crackling intro to “Ashes,” which subjects us to chunk and howl, unwavering in its wail. Continuing this scathing lingering, “Gruesome Memento” opens with a sustain-powered cacophonous clash that accompanies the tortured repetition of “Eyes like needles, hands like poison,” ensuring that we feel the same creeping clasp. While these phrases often bookend songs to resolve those ideas, the penultimate track, “Under Attack,” makes sure to let it’s jangling statement give way to a heroic ending before sending us off with the ambient closer “Peregrine”—a massage to the senses after the grueling mental waltz that Mal de Vivre enforces.

With this seasoned debut, Tiso has both opened new sonic doors and, hopefully, closed a few dark chapters in his life. In many ways, compared to experimental extravagance of his past, Mal de Vivre serves as a more digestible ode to the riff; far from simple, though. In its gloom, it is also a wistful ode to Tiso’s history, and a valiant step to his future, guitar as his guide. Mal de Vivre deserves to be played straight through over and over, as much as you can muster. Red Rot has not fully settled into everything they can do with their sound yet, the full band backing not quite being center stage. That just makes me more excited for what’s to come in their future.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: WAV2
Label: Svart Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: August 26th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Ian Baker on bass, Ron Bertrand on drums.
  2. Thanks, Red Rot/Svart!
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