Though I have no musical ability, back in high school I used to love plucking random strings on my friend’s Stratocaster knockoff and imagining I was composing an avant-garde interlude for some progressive screamo album.1 Maybe I’d get really good one day, grow my hair out, and be the heartthrob of emo girls everywhere. Rock star dreams aside, I knew at heart my ‘playing’ was garbage, marred by awkward pauses where I wasn’t sure what note to hit next and a general ‘made-this-up-on-the-spot’ vibe. But much as I’ve tried to forget, years later I’ve now discovered an album that vividly reminds me of those days of bedroom guitar fumblefucking; and the result is just as awful as you’d expect.
Admittedly, this Netherlands-based trio has heaps more musical talent than I ever did, but that doesn’t mean Villainy II: Dim is a good album. Initially, I went in expecting a blackened crust treat based on the occult black-and-white artwork and reviews of Villainy’s debut, 2013’s Villainy I. And while those elements are here, Dim is also quite proggy, doomy, and even rock-y at times, sounding something like a blackened Kvelertak trying their hand at Formulas of Death-era Tribulation. Take the track “Nebulous Chasm,” which begins with an extended sequence of clean picking and sluggish riffs before cresting into a peppy beat with great rocking, crusty riffs. Later, the first half of “Valley” invokes a similar feeling—but it’s also this track that serves as an excellent example of how things go terribly amiss.
See, Dim’s problem is that in between these aforementioned sections of decent music are extended, vaguely jazzy interludes that take these 49 minutes from what could be an acceptable black-crust record into an exercise in utter tedium. Right from the start, the opening notes of instrumental intro “A Familiar Wind” sound jumbled, like the guitarist improvised them in the recording booth. It’s not necessarily bad; but the Halloween carousel riff that follows sure is. Likewise, the second half of aforementioned “Valley” is largely plagued by the same issue, featuring dull clean work that fails to offer any build or atmosphere. The worst culprits, however, are first-half instrumentals “Dwaalspoor” and “Only I Have the Light of Lights.” The former song rides its lame swinging riff for what feels like twelve rather than two minutes, while the latter is Dim’s worst example of an awkward-sounding, useless interlude that feels all too much like my own adolescent musical navel gazing.
While Dim’s production is actually surprising good—especially the clear, crisp drumming and sharp guitars—that actually works to the album’s detriment at times. The seven minute slog “Jewel” ends up being a failed attempt at doom-death that slaughters the record’s pace early on, sapped of atmosphere by the same production that makes the uptempo parts sound so vivid. And sadly, while I suspect Villainy would be a much better band if they stuck solely to these thrashy black-crust portions, even interlude-free cuts like “The Soul Is Untouched” end up sounding so milquetoast that I doubt trimming the fat could have even saved this album.
The biggest shame is that Villainy clearly have some talented musicians. The drumming moves deftly from blasting to swing beats to lively rolls, and moments like the terrific extended guitar solo in closer “Herschapen” and the Sound of Perseverance-style riff in “Inside Her Hide and Fire” show the guitarist has the chops to deliver interesting riffs. Even the vocalist’s snarly growl has a nice touch of attitude in it. But on the whole, Dim feels less like an album and more like an extended jam session that was recorded in one take so the trio could leave the studio to grab some pizza and beers; an effect reinforced by the fact that many of these tracks flow directly into each other. After my first few listens I thought maybe I just didn’t ‘get’ Dim, but having now spent far more time with it than I care to, I’ve concluded there never was anything to get at all. Simply put, this album is empty: barren of mood, tension, or purpose, meandering in its own faux-sophistication and offering only a few scattered glimmers of decency to keep it from being utterly worthless. Just like my own attempts at music, this is best left disregarded and forgotten.