The abyss stares back.
If the more than 50 years of metal music’s history has taught anything, it is that it isn’t bound by the limitations that tend to afflict other musical expressions, and even now there are several prominent artists out there pressing further into the seemingly boundless beyond in search of an endpoint. One of the more recent projects to venture into the event horizon of stylistic progression is the Spanish progressive death outfit White Stones, the brainchild of bassist and 2nd longest serving member of the iconic band Opeth Martin Mendez, which made some waves by becoming the first band from their nation to fly under the Nuclear Blast banner and unleashing a highly unique blend of musical elements into their debut “Kuarahy” last year. With the pandemic lockdowns commencing about 5 minutes after said album hit the market, Mendez and company have opted not to take things lying down and have returned with an even more unorthodox follow up in “Dancing Into Oblivion.”
This is an album that, per Mendez’s own testimony, reflects the chaos and uncertainty that came to typify the time period in which it was birthed, often times wandering outside the bounds of what tends to be regarded as typical progressive death metal. Episodic moments of heavily distorted brutality trade positions with serene moments of musical meditation, often hopping across such disparate influences as John Coltrane and Deicide with little warning and showcasing a more technically charged approach in keeping with the ideals originally codified during the 70s progressive rock era. But while the whole album is an exercise in exploiting the possibilities of a traditional metal arrangement, the bass work of the aforementioned head of this project takes a far more auspicious role, not only in terms of flashy runs or raucous fills, but also in overall presence within the mix, often to the point of upstaging the guitar work and making for a dank, sludgy sound than usual within a death metal context.
The unpredictable nature of this 35 minute long song cycle runs the gamut from being relaxing to utterly menacing. The opening ambient prelude “La Menace” is a brilliant expression of the latter, building from a rumbling low hum to a series of dark, jagged timbres like the opening credits of a horror film, and sets the stage for what proves to be a mixed up affair. The first metallic entry “New Age Of Dark” checks all of the boxes for a purely vicious old school death metal excursion from the deep guttural groans of vocalist Eloi Boucherie to the recurring wild, whammy bar steeped shredding guitar leads that sound like they were lifted from the Hoffman brothers, yet has sort of a rhythmically precise smoothness with elaborate transition points that normally wouldn’t be heard on an early Deicide offering. It’s an interesting blend of early Florida influences with some obvious stylistic quirks, and it ultimately proves to be the closest thing to a standard song on the entire album.
Despite most of the material found on this album being fairly short in length, at least by progressive musical standards, the sheer amount of contrasting elements that come into play proves to be a bit jarring at times. The jazz fusion meets harrowing, dissonant metallic assault “Chain Of Command” rides a mostly consistent groove, but the riff work and frequent twists provided by the bass gives things a sense of wandering about in a wide open space, while the guitar solo that chimes in at around the 3 minute mark could rival John Petrucci. The same can be said, albeit doubly so, for the extended jam “Iron Titans”, which goes in quite heavy on the free jazz trappings and noodling bass work during its extended introduction before laying on the extreme metal elements. Throw into the mix some off-time drumming and Middle Eastern quirks on the roaring shredder “To Lie Or To Die” and a set of Rush meets death metal twists and turns on the guitar-happy beast “Freedom In Captivity”, and an album decrying both social isolation and stylistic convention at every turn emerges.
Ultimately this album’s greatest strength is its lack of conformity to what is generally regarded as established norms, though ultimately it proves a liability for anyone seeking an accessible album that makes an instant impression. “Dancing Into Oblivion” basically lives up to its name in every respect, culminating in an album that is more of a grower than something that will immediately hit the audience right in the sweet spot. The fact that it is relatively short in length definitely works to its advantage, but the sheer amount of content that has been compressed into these short to moderately long compositions makes it easy for most conventional death metal fans to get lost. It’s target audience will most likely see a lot of overlap with the middle era output of Opeth, though this is stylistically varied enough to rival the most out there offerings of Pestilence and Voivod. It is maybe a tad on the over-ambitious side of things, but it’s definitely in a class by itself and will pay dividends to those looking for a genre-defying rollercoaster ride.
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Released On: August 27th, 2021
Genre: Progressive Extreme Metal
- Martín Méndez / Bass & Guitars
- Joao Sasseti / Guitar solos
- Eloi Boucherie / Vocals
- Joan Carles Marí Tur / Drums
“Dancing Into Oblivion” track-listing:
- La Menace
- New Age Of Dark
- Chain Of Command
- Iron Titans
- Woven Dream
- To Lie or to Die
- Freedom in Captivity
A couple years of downtime for Opeth has found its second longest serving member and bassist Martin Mendez on a highly prolific working vacation, as his secondary project unleashes a second forward-looking studio LP in as many years, further blurring the lines between where progressive death metal ends and everything else begins