Label: Consouling Sounds (CD) / Breathe Plastic Records (Cassette) / Diorama Records (Cassette) / WOOAAARGH (vinyl) / Dingleberry Records (vinyl) / Smithsfoodgroup DIY (vinyl) / Momentum Collective (vinyl) / Solitary Wolf Records (vinyl) / Grains Of Sand Records (vinyl) / Vinylaceton (vinyl)
Death Poems is a very deceptive album. Whilst, on the surface, it may seem to be front-loaded towards the heavy and oppressive, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that this is an album of remarkable subtlety and intelligence. For sure, there is plenty of darkness and despair here, with lumbering sludge-covered riffs backed up by bone-crushing drums and desperate screams. But equally, there are just as many moments when The Fifth Alliance break free from raw, primeval violence, adding hardcore and post-metal elements to the music, and it transcends in to something remarkably cathartic and atmospheric. It’s easy to be dismissive about anyone dabbling in post-metal contrasts and arrangements these days, with many considering the best days of the style to be well and truly gone; but with Death Poems, there is the clear feeling that this is the only way to adequately express what the band intended to put across, with their emotions raw and bleeding. And as such, it feels refreshingly honest, possessing an urgency and force that is so often lacking in this style.
It begins in typical enough fashion, with opener “Your Abyss” beginning with several minutes of clean, atmospheric guitars, steadily building up until Sylvia’s vocals enter, quickly turning from clean and beautiful into something much harsher and raw. The atmosphere becomes darker and more ominous, stretching out in an almost teasing manner, building and building as Sylvia repeats “I can’t go on like this.” The mounting tension is so great that when the band finally unleash their power almost halfway through the song, it makes the moment of release incredibly powerful. Even then, as blissfully heavy and cathartic as it is, there is a sense of restraint present – that the band are holding something back, keeping a tight leash on their respective instruments lest the song slip away from them. It ensures that, despite the release granted, the atmosphere is still foreboding and anxious, which is a duality worthy of praise.
Following tracks are no easier. “Fall Of Taira” weaves subtle melodies in to its opening moments, giving the track power and grace in equal measure, with Sylvia’s raw, shouted vocals ensuring the track stays rooted in the ground, full of earthly oppression and turmoil. Her shouts have an almost hardcore quality to them, unflinchingly honest and pained, as if these lyrics – which are often very much to-the-point, statements of intent and challenges to the listener – simply have to be shouted to give them the weight and impact they require; no other vocal style would do. And whilst they may grab attention on early listens, it’s the subtle musical elements that ensure Death Poems has real staying power and intelligence, with new elements being revealed with repeat listens.
The title track is more restrained initially, but no less forceful for it. The riffs easing off once the vocals come forward gives both elements greater emotional resonance; in an album full of moments heavy both musically and emotionally, it makes the track reach new heights of harrowing devastation. The track is a superb example of the power of restraint – it is soul-destroying, utterly heart-breaking, but never crass and brash in its demolition of your hopes. Few bands this side of Neurosis have unleashed such devastation whilst simultaneously giving the impression that they are capable of so much more – and it is that promise, that unspoken threat and danger, which helps make Death Poems so noteworthy. It takes a wise musician to realise that the notes unplayed are so important as those actually recorded, but judging by this evidence, The Fifth Alliance understand that fact very well indeed.
Closer “Dissension” surely hammers that home, with a gentle acoustic opening soon flowing in to post-metal devastation. Its ten minutes are a masterclass in the build and release of tension and atmosphere, with guitar melodies that are almost hopeful and radiant in their cathartic nature rising above the eventual maelstrom of violence as the band attempt to reach beyond. And for sure, there is something grand about Death Poems and its transcendent nature, which is something it shares with the best post-metal. Think of the way that Amenra, Neurosis, Cult Of Luna, or Isis at their respective peaks tap in to elements both earthly and other-worldly – that is the feeling Death Poems succeeds in conjuring. If that sounds like high praise, it’s because it is.
If I have any complaint about Death Poems, it is that, at 36 minutes, it is relatively short, and I suspect that a few more tracks would give the band more room to play with the elements they explore here. What they have given us here is certainly very good, but I can’t help but feel that, if there were more, it would all feel even better. Perhaps that’s just me being greedy, though. As it is, there’s no denying that Death Poems is a dark, impressive release; the kind designed to challenge yourself with, if not musically then as a person. But, as challenging as it is, there is a lot to commend about Death Poems, most especially for how brutally honest and raw its emotions are. This is definitely one to sink in to; but not to go in unprepared.
Death Poems can be streamed and downloaded via Bandcamp; CDs can be purchased through Consouling Sounds; cassette via Breathe Plastic Records; and vinyl (200 transparent green, 300 black) via Bandcamp.